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First Generation Professionals Student Perspectives

USC Gould School of Law

Latrice Burks


I am the first person in my family to graduate college and attend law school. I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio and attended the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts college. I served as President of the Political Science Club and was nominated by the Dean to serve on the Senior Class Committee. Just days after graduation, I said goodbye to my family, packed two suitcases and moved to Los Angeles. I joined Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (MTO) as part of their Fellows Program for students of color pursuing careers in law. Later, I worked full-time at MTO as a Litigation Analyst. I was selected a 2017 American Bar Association (ABA) Legal Opportunity Scholar. It look a lot to get here, but I am grateful to be pursuing my dream career at USC Gould.

Jenecia Martinez


I was born and raised in Inglewood, CA and am a proud daughter of low-wage working immigrant parents from Guatemala and Mexico. For the past 35 years my mother has worked cleaning houses and offices and my father has worked as a banquet server at the Marriott Hotel. Despite growing up in a low-income community and attending an under-resourced inner city high school, I was fortunate enough to have amazing teachers who helped me gain acceptance to top universities. I attended Stanford University, being the first in my family to leave home. However, my parents struggled to understand my choice to leave for college and I also experienced a large culture shock when I got to Stanford. I ended up dropping out of Stanford about a month after arriving. The barriers I have encountered in my educational journey, along with the vast disparity in privilege that plagues my community is what has motivated me to pursue a career in public interest law. I hope to serve as an agent of change for low-income communities.

Shana Emile


I grew up in a single-headed household. My mother worked two jobs to help provide for my brother and me, so I was forced to grow up at a very young age. I was the first person in my family to go away to college and much like most of my life, I had to figure out how to navigate through higher education, from taking out loans to creating a resume, all on my own. The biggest struggle I faced was confidence. Confidence that I could contribute to classroom discussions or keep up academically with non-first generation students.

Andres Cantero


My mother was born in the rural town of Salinas, California, where she was raised in a farm working community. My father was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came to the U.S. when he was 17. I am the first to attend college and law school (I went to Stanford University for undergrad). I decided to attend law school to change the world. I grew up with humble beginnings but have always aspired to do great things. In order to do so, I knew I needed a strong educational foundation to thrust me to the top, increase my credibility, and find support to be heard. Something unique about me is that I was on both Stanford's and USC's competition cheer team. Here is a link to a video of me doing a backflip at one of the OneJustice Bus trips I took with USC Gould School of Law.

Thai Viet Phan


I am ethnically Vietnamese but I was born in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand. My parents left Vietnam when my mom was nine months pregnant with me, and gave birth to me in Thailand a few weeks after arriving. We later moved to the Philippines before landing in Orange County, California. I am the first in my family to graduate high school, attend college, and attend graduate school. I was extremely fortunate to have caring, dedicated teachers growing up, even though I attended almost exclusively Title I schools. My teachers made college seem less a dream and more a requirement. My original motivation for attending law school was to work in education policy, but as I met more alumni and experts in both legal and policy fields, my interest in municipal government grew. In the future, I hope to work with local governments and communities because it takes a village to raise a child, and I am forever grateful to the community that raised me.