November 14, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

A male college student with long brown hair and a goatee paints on a canvas.
Ivan Longoria is pursuing an art education degree at Calvin University.

When Ivan Longoria graduated from Wyoming High School, he never thought he’d end up in college. He didn’t see a path. None of his family had gone to college, he didn’t know what he wanted to pursue in a career, and he didn’t see it being financially feasible.

“The easier choice was the Navy, where you listen and take direction, they pay you, and there is no fee to join,” said Longoria.

So, in 2017, Longoria took that path, joined the Navy, and served faithfully for four years. When his service was complete in 2021, he knew the GI Bill would cover the financial costs of college, so with that barrier out of the way he decided to go for it.

Longoria remembered in high school a couple of his art teachers recommending Calvin as a good school, so he applied there first, was accepted, and decided to give it a try.

Finding his place

He said his first semester was a bit challenging, especially making the transition back from the Navy to civilian. “Freshmen year, I isolated myself a lot,” said Longoria. “But when I did open myself up and relied on God who was calling me into community, I started making a lot of friends. The community here is amazing.”

Ivan Longoria interacting with his classmates at Calvin University in an art studio.
Ivan Longoria interacting with his classmates at Calvin University in an art studio.

Longoria was also growing in his faith. “My faith is a key factor in my life, so to build my education around it is a wonderful thing,” he said. “I would take a religion class and realize I need to be in the Bible more and need to be participating in church. Calvin was helping me implement those practices into my regular routine.”

Supported and inspired

Longoria was also finding the support he so desperately needed academically. This year, he is part of TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), a federally funded program which supports first-generation students, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities. Through the program, Longoria and his peers have access to specialized resources and services that help them stay in and graduate from college.

One of his guides in the program is its director, Kyle Heys. While Longoria has been interacting with Heys for months, he just found out Heys too was a first-generation student.

“I see Kyle in a great position as an adviser and faculty member, and he also does a lot with the TRIO program and talks a lot about financial literacy, and I see a lot of wisdom in him,” said Longoria. “For me to realize he’s first gen and that I could be on the same path as him, to be in such a great position in life like him, that’s inspiring.”

Dreaming bigger

With other first-gen students and faculty and staff now in his life, Longoria is starting to dream bigger.

“After high school, higher ed felt like a difficult path,” said Longoria. “When it comes to reading and writing I feel like I’ve struggled a lot, but now I’ve been through all these different stages, from blue collar to military to college student, and now I’m preparing to become a future educator.”

Ivan Longoria painting for one of his classes at Calvin University.
Ivan Longoria painting for one of his classes at Calvin University.

Longoria is already modeling that through TRIO, where he not only utilizes the resources for himself, but he’s also helping his fellow peers as a tutor and mentor. And he’s pursuing an art education degree, hoping to teach in high school, looking to help inspire students like him to aim higher.

“I kind of feel like that’s where my vocation is taking me, I am wanting to have that impact on the next generation to become a better generation,” said Longoria. “I can apply so many different perspectives to students. I want them to know that any of them can step up to the plate and hit a home run. They are able to do these things when they apply themselves. They just need someone to push them and show them, and I’m a representation of what I’m trying to preach. I want to show them and help them understand they can really do something. They don’t have to default to certain standards.”

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