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A Beacon of Hope - From First-Generation Student to Mentor

In a world filled with uncertainty and challenges, there are individuals who shine as beacons of hope, lighting the path for others. Savannah Pineda, a Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) student at Texas State University, is one such individual whose journey is a testament to the power of education and the enduring spirit of giving back.

Pineda's story begins with her own graduation from the University of North Texas, where she earned a degree in psychology. For the two years following her graduation, she dedicated her life to "Breakthrough Central Texas," a nonprofit organization dedicated to breaking barriers for first-generation college students.

Savannah Pineda
Savannah Pineda

At Breakthrough Central Texas, Pineda's role was more than just a job title; it was a calling. She partnered with high schools in the Austin and Central Texas areas, striving to open doors for high school students seeking higher education. She worked closely with seniors, guiding them through the complex web of college applications, financial aid, and college exploration. Her passion for helping students achieve their dreams blossomed during this time.

“My students were applying to Stanford and all of these Ivy Leagues, and to see them be brave to make that step to make that choice really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and pursue my masters,” Pineda said.

Pineda, a first-generation college student herself, grew up surrounded by education. Her mother, Vanessa Requena, started as a pre-K assistant and gradually transitioned into a special education assistant, dedicating 12 years to this noble profession. Her grandmother was no different, serving as a secretary at the same school for nearly four decades. Witnessing their dedication and connection with students left an indelible mark on Savannah's heart, igniting her own passion for education.

Her high school years at an early college program further deepened Pineda’s understanding of educational disparities. After graduating high school with an associate's degree, she realized the importance of bridging gaps in education, especially in predominantly Black and Hispanic Title I schools.

“My driving force and the reason why this is so important to me is because I'm thinking about all of my students that I've helped,” Pineda said. “I'm thinking about the students that come after them, and I'm thinking about my parents and the opportunities that they didn't get. I don't want to take this for granted.”

But her journey isn't just about her own pursuits; it's deeply intertwined with her mother's inspiring story. Her mother, a non-traditional student, embarked on her own educational journey, pursuing her degree in education while working full-time. From studying together to helping navigate the complex educational landscape, Pineda's support was unwavering.

Vanessa Requena and Savannah Pineda
Vanessa Requena and Savannah Pineda

“It's a great thing because she always supported me and helped me achieve my dreams and passions,” Pineda said.  “And so to be able to give back to her, in very small ways really, because she did all the work, it was very like monumental for me and for our relationship as a mother and daughter.” 

When her mother graduated from Texas State University, it was a moment of shared pride and accomplishment. 

“That was probably one of the best moments of my life seeing her walk across the stage,” Pineda said. “Now she's got her own classroom, she loves her kids, and she’s actively living out her passion and her dream.”

For Savannah Pineda, education isn't just a path to personal success; it's a means to empower others, honor her family's legacy, and uplift future generations. Her journey is a reminder that, with determination and compassion, individuals can light the way for others, making the world a brighter place, one student at a time.