The University of Notre DameYale UCLA. University of HawaiiMount St. Mary's College.  This fall, these impressive universities and more will be the recipients of students from the 2014 graduating class of El Rancho High School. 

As students prepare for the next step in their academic career, the nonprofit organization Generation 1st Degree- Pico Rivera held a "Summer Send-off" luncheon this week, to celebrate this major milestone in a student's life.  The event also helped connect the soon-to-be college freshman with other El Rancho High alumni and university graduates, to exchange real world information about what to expect about their upcoming collegiate life.

"Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera has been instrumental in assisting our students with critical resources to help them attend a four-year university," said Jessica Kwek, principal of El Rancho High School.  "These graduates have gained the tools they need to get to college and be more confident and successful.  It's been a fantastic support system for our school."

President of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, Jacki Cisneros, says the ultimate goal of the organization is to ensure that a student is better prepared for what lies ahead on their college journey, and more importantly, graduates from college.  

"We are working to prepare the student to succeed in a highly competitive college environment," said Cisneros.  "The more we can do to help these students succeed, the better it will be in the long run for their personal and professional lives, as well as for our whole community."

Cisneros also provided key tips to both students and their parents, on how to best adjust to the rigors of a higher education.

"Believe in yourself because there will be a lot of changes you'll be facing at your new college, and you always have to remember that you have worked hard for this.  You have a right to be there."  

Other advice included, “Get involved, introduce yourself to your professors and get organized." 

One of the 50 students in attendance was recent high school graduate Oslvado Jaime, who plans on attending California State University, Monterey Bay.  He said being involved in Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera's programs this past year helped him learn about the importance of time management skills and being prepared.

"All of the workshops and mentorships and tips have given me an idea of what college is going to be like, and how I can make the most out of my time in school," said Jaime.  "I want to get involved, do the best I can, and graduate."

The event concluded with a raffle of items such as computers, dorm room size refrigerators, printers, tablets and more, all generously donated by Wal-Mart and Target in Pico Rivera.

"This experience for my daughter has been so helpful," said Liz Plaza, mother of recent graduate Susanna Plaza.  "These programs have inspired her, and helped her find the resources and services she needs to be competitive.  We are so grateful."