Karen Pelayo Palmer, First-Generation College Student to receive master’s degree

Karen Pelayo Palmer, graduating with her master’s degree in nursing.

Karen Pelayo Palmer, is now in her last semester at California State University (CSU) Stanislaus, where she will be graduating with her master’s degree in nursing and she credits her father’s decision to send her to school in Clovis Unified as to why she was able to navigate the educational system as a first generation college student. 

Pelayo Palmer, who is now being recognized by the National Honor Society for First-Generation College Students is a local who graduated from Fresno City College and transferred to Fresno State for her bachelor’s before she made the decision to pursue her education further and obtain her master’s from CSU Stanislaus.

Pelayo Palmer will graduate in Dec. of this year with a master of science in nursing, as a family practitioner. Pelayo Palmer has been awarded multiple scholarships for her academic achievements, including maintaining a 3.95 GPA.

The National Honor Society for First-Generation College Students stated that Pelayo Palmer has been invited to be a member of the national honor society Tri-Alpha, whose purpose is to recognize academic excellence and provide opportunities for personal growth, leadership development and campus and community service for first generation college students. 

Eligibility requirements for individuals to be invited for membership are a minimum 3.0 GPA  for graduates and that they are first generation students who have completed at least one term of study.

Pelayo Palmer said she credits her academic success to her family, who when faced with the decision of where to send her to school, made the decision to send her to Clovis Unified. While in Clovis Unified Pelayo Palmer attended elementary school at Lincoln and Valley Oak elementary school, after which she attended middle school at Kastner Intermediate. 

Pelayo Palmer said her father made a big decision that has since impacted her view on education. While she attended high school in Fresno Unified, Pelayo Palmer recognized the significance her father placed on her education when he made the decision early in her educational career to send her to Clovis Unified.

“I definitely felt like the teachers and parents [at Clovis Unified] were really involved in school and checking on the students. I remember they would always talk to us in a way that felt like they were kind of really on top of things and they just cared,” Pelayo Palmer said.

The impact of Clovis Unified’s education resonated with Pelayo Palmer so much that it inspired her to relocate so that her own children can now go to school in Clovis Unified. 

Pelayo Palmer, who is the first in her family to graduate from college, described the path she took as a difficult one but one she encourages others to pursue.

Being the first in her family to go to college meant Pelayo Palmer did not have many people to turn to for advice on college admissions essays or for advice on navigating financial aid program websites. But for Pelayo Palmer who was a Spanish speaking native, she also faced other barriers that required her to go the extra mile to ensure she maintained her grades in college.

“I scheduled a lot of meetings with the graduate writing center and they helped me a lot. That kind of helped me as far as maintaining my grades for writing any papers,” Pelayo Palmer said.

For most students, going to college full time can prove challenging, but Pelayo Palmer was working full time as a nurse during the pandemic while managing a full class schedule.

Pelayo Palmer said having a great support system at home helped her be able to focus on school and work while she was pursuing her passion of helping others in her community as a nurse practitioner through her education.

The significance of being a first generation student was impactful on Pelayo Palmer’s family, but Pelayo Palmer said it was a difficult path to navigate.

According to Pelayo Palmer, who was born in Acapulco, Mexico she was part of the first group of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and when it came time to navigate the financial aid and other programs it was difficult because she couldn’t qualify for any aid.

“I didn’t qualify for financial aid or anything like that in the beginning but now there’s more programs. But financially it was a struggle and then I didn’t have any guidance as far as any family members could teach me how to apply for college,” Pelayo Palmer said.

Pelayo Palmer said she prioritized what she needed to get done to ensure she succeeded in school and led a healthy lifestyle. Going on walks throughout the week to decompress helped keep the stress down so that she could succeed in school and accomplish her goal of helping others in her community.

A strength that Pelayo Palmer said she found while working as a nurse during the pandemic is being able to be a provider that speaks Spanish in a community that is largely hispanic.

“A lot of [patients] are primarily hispanic, and they do speak Spanish. So it was important for me to continue my education so that they have someone that they can speak to in their native language and just bridge that gap of misunderstandings or of cultural traditions that are different,” Pelayo Palmer said.

Pelayo Palmer said that having the cultural background helps her communicate with patients in a way that they understand.  She is also able to get the point across quicker to patients who are hispanic and may not speak english as their first language.

“There’s a little bit more trust [from patients]” Pelayo Palmer said.

As Pelayo Palmer’s educational journey is almost finished, she encourages others who may be on the same path as her to not become discouraged and to utilize resources offered by universities and counselors that weren’t available when she first started her journey.

“You should find someone that you can talk to and the just start looking up resources online and start applying to financial aid, apply to scholarships, and just know that if you have to take out a loan that when you’re done with school you will be making more income than if you didn’t have that college degree.” Pelayo Palmer said.

Adam Ricardo Solis has written for The Collegian as a staff reporter covering a variety of topics and transferred from Fresno City College to Fresno State where he majored in agriculture business. He is excited to incorporate what he has learned about the agriculture industry in the Central Valley into future articles while also covering a variety of other community matters.