First-generation college student strives for success at U of A
By Andrea Bruner
Jennifer Cano watched her parents work hard to put food on the table and provide a better life for their family, and it was something she knew they would be passing on to their five children.
Cano could find no better way to put that work ethic to use than by starting her higher education at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.
A first-generation college student, Cano said she loved math as a child and early on found she had a good head for finances.
Cano said she was born in Little Rock and lived there until she was 6 years old, when her parents, Alvaro and Verania Cano, saw an opportunity to open their restaurant in Cave City, El Palenque.
At age 7, Cano was helping her older brother load dishes into the dishwashing machine at their family's restaurant. Throughout middle school and high school, when Cano's classmates got to go home and play video games, she was earning a wage at her family's restaurant.
“A kid doesn't necessarily want to work all the time,” but the restaurant was part of her father's dream, and it was a way to teach responsibility and a strong work ethic to his children, she said.
“My dad never let go of that mindset. … He didn't go to college and neither did my mom,” Cano said.
Her father worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant and then a server to save up money, hoping to one day provide his children with better opportunities he'd had as a child. “That is one of the things that inspired me.”
She said she was involved in the Beta Club and Future Business Leaders of America, and her sophomore year Cave City began offering soccer, although the season was canceled her junior year because of Covid. However, Cano made the All-State Soccer team her sophomore and senior years.
“I had to balance my athletics with my academics,” Cano continued. “I always put academic work before practice.”
Her dedication to her studies paid off, as she was salutatorian of the 2021 graduating class at Cave City.
When it came time to pick a college, Cano said she knew she wanted to stay close, and she'd heard about the transfer opportunities at UACCB.
“I knew that I wanted to stay here for at least a year to finish my general studies and get my associate in business.
“Staying here also allowed me to really look at my goals and analyze them and plan my time with my family, while not having to worry about expenses,” she said.
“They say you miss out on the full college experience at a community college, but I think I got the best experience. Being at a smaller campus allows you to connect more with your classmates and engage more than you would at a larger school.”
Cano said she had taken several concurrent classes in high school that has also allowed her to earn an associate degree in just one year.
Not only will she graduate in May with an associate of science in business, she will earn a certificate of proficiency in health professions, technical certificate in health professions, and technical certificate in general studies.
“My advisor (Tina Goodman) put me in those classes to finish my degree,” Cano said.
“Van Taylor is a great transfer coordinator; she's been talking to me about scholarship opportunities at the U of A.”
Cano also praised the faculty at UACCB. “Tracy Broadwater is the sweetest professor I've met, and Beverly Meizer, I really loved her enthusiasm. Even though I wasn't really interested in physical science, she really helped me enjoy the class.
“Phillip Landers is a career coach, and he was a valuable person in helping me apply for UACCB. Being a first-generation student, you kind of get lost in the process.”
Cano will transfer this fall to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to major in accounting with a minor in real estate/finance. “I want to get my CPA and open my own firm. I also want to be a realtor in the future. My dad also owns an apartment complex and wants to expand.”
Her older brother, she said, went to work in the family business and their younger siblings also work in the restaurant.
“Family has always been important to me,” Cano said. “My parents didn't grow up with a lot of money – they had to work for it. My dad's ambition taught me that you're not just a product of your environment but also hard work. As a parent, you want to see your kids have opportunities that weren't provided for you when you were young. ...
“Having a degree is important but with success comes a lot of hard work, and hopefully I will one day reach the level they've reached.”