Helping Students Beat the Odds

Earning an undergraduate degree, let alone a graduate degree, is difficult for anyone, but for first generation students, it can be especially challenging. According to US News & World Report, 89 percent of low-income, first-generation students leave college without a degree within six years, and more than a quarter leave after the first year. 

But Audrey Fresques, who received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Northern Arizona University, beat those odds. A first-generation student who grew up in a low-income household, she excelled academically. This journey continues to inform her experiences.

"Growing up, our family struggled tremendously; we had our lights shut off, and we would sell our clothes to pay rent," she says. "Now, in my work as a high school counselor, I don't hesitate to advocate for continued education. I've seen how a person's quality of life improves once they've achieved their educational goals."

Fresques brings her own life experience to her educational role as a counselor for at-risk students at GateWay Early College High School in Phoenix, which offers a concurrent enrollment program with GateWay Community College. "I might not have gone through a lot of the things that they have," she says. "But, I've experienced firsthand the poverty and the struggle without an education."

Learning from a STAR

Fresques also has direct experience with the positive impact that good counseling can bring. It was the university's Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR) program that Fresques attributes, in large part, to her own success. Through the program, Fresques was able to gain access to a diversity waiver, stellar mentors, and academic support. Combined with her own motivation, Fresques says the resources she received from the STAR program helped her discover what she really wanted to do.

"I had intended to work as a substance abuse counselor," she says. "But when I began helping adult learners access post-secondary education, I realized that my whole reason for pursuing an education and ultimately a master's degree was because I saw what life was like without an education."

Fresques takes pride in her role as a mentor, and in helping students invest in their own education. Her personal belief in education has led her to her final year in Arizona State University’s three-year doctoral program for current teachers, educators, or administrators, which has a special emphasis on urban schools.

Committed to mentoring

Fresques combines her passion for teaching and mentoring with advocacy for physical activity and health. She volunteers as GateWay Early College’s running club coordinator, and the research project for her doctoral degree will study how nutrition information posted in high school cafeterias may affect students’ lunch choices.

Fresques is committed to continuing her work with disadvantaged students. "I hope to work for a university transition program like STAR someday," she says. "I want to take my work in helping students to the next level. I have a lot of great ideas that I want to integrate into the education system at either the secondary or post-secondary level." The future Dr. Audrey Fresques will bring her story full circle, and help high-risk students beat the odds, just like she did.