CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Naperville college is getting national recognition for its service to Latino students. "Excelencia in Education" named North Central College a top winner for their program servicing first generation students.
North Central College junior Chris Martinez told CBS 2's Marissa Parra his parents were "definitely proud" when they found out he was going to college.
"My parents immigrated from Mexico," he said. "They gave me everything that they could, but it's hard."
Martinez is navigating college as the first one in his family.
"I've heard Christopher actually explain it as navigating a landscape you've never seen before. So Cardinal First tries to provide a community and connection to resources and people," said Julie Carballo, director of first generation initiatives at North Central College.
Cardinal First at North Central College serves students like Chris, who are first generation; a group primarily made up of Latinos more than any other racial or ethnic group
Fellow junior Adrian Martinez-De La Cruz said his journey "definitely has not" been easy.
"It was tough, because both of my parents, they're both immigrants. They haven't really gone to college, so it was a struggle kind of feeling like, 'how do i figure this out?'" he said.
Which is in part why he transferred schools to North Central.
"We have many first gen faculty and staff who are involved with the program, and share their experiences of struggle," Carballo said.
With an open door policy, Cardinal First mentors like Carballo are with first generation students every step of the way; providing monthly support groups, scholarships, and mentoring opportunities from their first day on campus to their last
"Ninety-two percent of our students who participate in our program during their first year are back for the second year," Carballo said. "Which is why we were recognized by Excelencia in Education as being an evidence-based practice that works for Latino students."
"It's really nice to hear from professors and faculty about an issue we're facing now that they faced 20 years ago," Adrian said.
"I don't think I'd be where i am if it wasn't for this program," Chris aid.
Next year, the program will see both Chris and Adrian become the first in their family to walk the stage at graduation.
"It is quite emotional, because obviously both of them, they came to this country for a better life, not just for me but my brothers as well," Adrian said.
North Central College is also paving the way for other schools. Since their national recognition, other schools have already started calling, in hopes of bringing the same success to their own campuses.
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