Student Scholarship Story

The Path to Growth First Generation Student Beautiful Journey Featured

The Path to Growth: First Generation Student’s Beautiful Journey

Nayeli Esqueda Alvarado remembers learning to love video games ever since she could move her thumbs. She recalls spending much of her childhood playing video games with her father, a happy memory that Nayeli carries with her as she reflects on her SOU college experience. Nayeli will be graduating as a double major in Computer Science and Emerging Media and Digital Arts in June with the hopes of entering the video game industry. It’s because of her education at SOU that Nayeli is poised for a promising future.   

Nayeli grew up in Talent, Oregon before moving to Phoenix when she was 12. She attended Talent Elementary, Talent Middle School, and Phoenix High School. Nayeli’s parents immigrated from Mexico, which means she will be the first in her family to graduate from college, a meaningful moment for her and her family.

The Path to Growth First Generation Student Beautiful Journey

Nayeli excelled in high school and loved the imaginative escape of video games outside of her sports and academic interests. Nayeli says, “That’s why I want to go into video game development. I want to create that sense of happiness for someone else.”  

Before coming to SOU, it was a single coding class that sent her on the path to explore the computer science field. Because she had participated in Oregon’s Dual Credit program in high school, Nayeli accelerated her learning and many of her high school academic credits transferred to her Bachelor’s Degree. When she was looking at colleges and saw the offerings at SOU in computer science, she was thrilled to apply knowing that the universe of computer science was open for her exploration.

In the spring of her junior year, she took her first EMDA class in game development taught by a variety of EMDA professors including Bobby Arellano and Miles Inada. Nayeli says the class had a major influence on her academics. She says, “EMDA taught me everything I needed to know about the creative side of digital media.” In high school, she only knew HTML, JAVA, and Python, but she goes on to say about her academics at SOU, 

“All the classes I’ve taken at SOU have taught me so much. I’ve learned everything here—all the computer languages and how algorithms work, coding, and databases. I have this entire part of my resume that now shows my knowledge base.”  

Nayeli has worked on a variety of meaningful projects in her final year at SOU. She worked with Jackson County for six months designing a web server that would help them maintain future, present, and past contract templates. This real-world experience helped her learn how to work with professionals, learn what makes a project feasible, and also learn how to transcribe everything into a tangible product they could use.  

She also worked on the project, somos oregonenses, with EMDA faculty member, Bobby Arellano. Over the winter, students collaborated on a group research project on Hispanic and mestizo communities of southern Oregon. They imagined a framework and designed an interface for a digital repository of oral histories and folk art. She’s finishing that project as part of a special EMDA elective this term, and the website will go live this summer. Check out the Instagram page for more about this important project. 

Group of people standing and smiling.

Nayeli and EMDA students meet alumnus Ty Burrell.

To finish her degree, she’s creating a short horror video game, which she’s imagining from idea development to storyline to design and coding. She hopes this experience will help her in future career opportunities in video game development where she is eager to work as a Latina woman in a male-dominated industry.  

First generation college students are often change makers for their communities, and Nayeli is no exception. This summer, she will be teaching middle schoolers how to make websites and games at SOU’s Academy as well as continuing her volunteer commitments. And though Nayeli will miss her professors, the Hannon Library, and the student clubs, Nayeli says, “I’m excited and really proud of myself for getting to this place and time in my life. I have to thank my parents for believing in me and pushing me through many tough days.”

Nayeli received the 2022 Soroptimist International Award from the Ashland chapter. The scholarship supports SOU students who excel scholastically, contribute to the community, and desire to enter a profession of service. The Ashland chapter seeks to ensure that women and girls have an equal voice in creating strong and peaceful communities. Nayeli was awarded the scholarship because of her exceptional volunteer commitments—her work with Almeda fire relief efforts, Phoenix’s annual Camelback Run, and Family Latino Day at SOU—as well as her academic excellence.   

Nayeli says about her time at SOU, “I’m really proud of who I am and who I have become.” She credits the many great opportunities at SOU helping her to grow including the diversity of student clubs, which was a perfect place for her to find belonging and community. She continues, 

“In high school, college was a dream, but the fear was tuition costs. Receiving these scholarships was a great honor. I was able to go through my entire SOU experience without worrying about financial aid.”   


Nayeli is just one of many students who benefit from SOU scholarships. Invest in student growth by contributing to SOU scholarships today.