When it came time to declare his major, first-generation college student and immigrant Elias Marquez-Aguirre had no trouble. He wanted a career serving his community, and criminal justice offered entry into a number of related careers. He’s now preparing to graduate this spring with his bachelor's and will further his education at UNLV with a master’s degree in Emergency Management.
Then he'll apply to the federal Department of Homeland Security investigations section. His end goal? Becoming a federal special agent to help increase safety in the Las Vegas casino and tourism industry.
Aguirre joined the Tourism Safety and Crowd Science research team in the College of Urban Affairs as an undergraduate to prepare him for his future plans. This team makes it their mission to identify and provide effective crowd management strategies to enhance safety at local and international crowd-based events.
Why did you choose your major?
I've always wanted to make a positive difference in my neighborhood, community, and city. UNLV's criminal justice curriculum brought community policing and law enforcement together — all while allowing me to discover my own passion, goals, and direction as a first-generation college student.
What is your role with the Crowd Science & Tourist Safety research team?
My current role is to collaborate with my research team in an effort to identify the best practices for music festival and concert organizers to minimize liability, maximize safety, all while embracing the subcultures within these crowd-based events.
What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve learned that much time goes into planning music festivals and concerts. There is great emphasis placed on the safety of the crowd and many organizations collaborate toward making these events a reality. I hope to continue learning about the social, psychological, and event factors that contribute to crowding safety and behavior within these events.
What was your biggest challenge in undergrad?
Maintaining a high GPA and balancing university life, work, and family. Having amazing university advisors, a great support system, and being disciplined in my studies is what kept me going and kept me sane! Being a first-generation college student meant paying extra attention to deadlines, making extra appointments with advisors, and spending extra time learning the campus and university life.
What was your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment during my undergrad has been maintaining my high GPA (3.88) and being invited to join Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, where only the top 10% of seniors are invited to join. Phi Kappa Phi is the only honor society that shows up on your UNLV official transcript and diploma. Being a part of UNLV's Tourist Safety & Crowd Science Research Team was an amazing accomplishment as well. This was invitation-only as well and required a successful interview with research director Joshua Donnelly.
What does being a first-generation student mean to you?
Being a first-generation college student means I have a high expectation of achievement for myself. I was the type of kid who did not have cable growing up due to our low household income compared to other students. Both my parents do not have a college degree and immigrated to the U.S. when I was 3 years old in order to provide me with greater life opportunities. So it is a very proud moment for me to show my parents that their sacrifice of immigrating to another country was not in vain and that despite all odds, I'll be graduating from an accredited university soon!
Do you have any advice for a first-generation student who is just starting out?
Know your 'why.' Why are you attending UNLV? It's deeper than simply thinking "I'm attending UNLV because I'm pursuing a film degree." Maybe you're attending because you want to bring pride and honor to your family's name. Maybe you're trying to fulfill a lifelong dream and goal. Whatever it may be, when times get tough, remember why you started. This will propel you forward and above all obstacles.
My second piece of advice is to get out of your comfort zone and network with like-minded students within your major. This will allow you to relate with others when university life gets stressful. This will also allow you to build friendships and connections in your chosen industry after graduation.
My last piece of advice is to take risks: apply for the scholarships, apply for those internships. Remember, the worst that can happen is to get a 'no' from the applications.