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dora figueroa
Dora Figueroa

In a journey defying expectations, Dora Figueroa, a Hispanic student from Brownsville, Texas, set her sights on marine biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Breaking away from the conventional career paths in her community, Figueroa’s passion for science led her to pursue a degree that many around her didn’t anticipate.

“Where I’m from, not a lot of Hispanic students like me take interest in science, it’s usually business or communications,” said Figueroa. “I remember myself and one other student getting excited for science fairs, but everyone else just saw them as assignments.”

Figueroa knew that if she wanted to pursue marine biology, she needed to maximize her learning opportunities, leading her to UH Mānoa—a campus that would allow her to research aquatic life and ecosystems unlike those back home.

“I would never see reefs like this where I’m from, so I hope to implement what I learned at UH Mānoa in grad school when I return to Texas,” Figueroa said. “And with the skills I’ve gained, I also hope to intern and be an education specialist at Sea Turtle, Inc., a sea turtle rehabilitation center I used to volunteer at when I was in high school.”

When you’re a first-generation college student from an immigrant family, there is no blueprint on how to be a college student—you ARE the blueprint.
—Dora Figueroa

She will earn a bachelor of science in marine biology, with a minor in political science, and will be among the participants at UH Mānoa’s fall 2023 commencement on Saturday, December 16, 9 a.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Making the most of her opportunities

Figueroa comes from an immigrant family—her parents came to the United States from Mexico with the hopes and intentions of giving their children (Dora and her sister) the life and opportunities they didn’t have.

“My parents are hard workers, and because I saw the hard work and dedication they have, and the sacrifices they made to give me a better life, I was motivated to make the most of the opportunities and resources available to me,” said Figueroa.

She participated in a summer marine biology program at UH Mānoa prior to her first semester in fall 2020 that allowed her to advance in her major sooner. She also gained support and resources from TRIO Mānoa, and earned numerous scholarships—including one from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that will open doors for her to careers and internships after graduation.

A student supporting students

When she first arrived at UH Mānoa, she said it was difficult for her to do things on her own, especially considering that she’s a first-generation college student. She did her research and also gained all the information she could about the campus by meeting with others from various departments. Because of this experience, she was inspired to help other students as an academic advisor, and provide them the support they need for their own journeys.

“When you’re a first-generation college student from an immigrant family, there is no blueprint on how to be a college student—you ARE the blueprint. You can make any choice, decision, anything you want, and you can’t let any roadblock stop you from achieving that,” said Figueroa.

She added, “This is part of what I tell the students I advise all the time, and I think it’s great advice for any student pursuing higher education—it’s okay to not know what you want to do, it’s okay to keep exploring majors to find what you best excel at, as long as you keep going and keep making progress.”

group of students

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