First-Generation College Student’s Life Experiences Fuel Interest in Marketing

September 1, 2022 | News, Student Success, UToday, Alumni, Business and Innovation
By Meredith Troxel

Navigating the college search process can be intimidating for first-generation college students like Ricardo Flores.

Flores, a senior marketing student from Delta, didn’t have past college experiences from family members to draw upon when it came to answering even the basic questions of higher education.


“I didn’t really have guidance from anybody in my family,” he said. “College wasn’t something that my family talked about, but they knew it was a good thing for me.”

The biggest hurdles to his college search were deciding where to go and what to do in his future. Through working at McDonald’s, Flores found an interest in business and helping to turn a product into profit. He chose UToledo because he could continue to be close to his family, while also studying in a business program with ample opportunities.

Students in the John B. and Lillian E. Neff College of Business and Innovation initially take general business courses in a variety of potential specializations — including accounting, marketing, supply chain management and others — before choosing their specific focus.

Through this sampling process, Flores determined that marketing is how he could make the biggest impact on the business world.

“My principles of marketing class showed me that I can change the perception of a product or a business through marketing material, like emails or signage.” Flores said, “I can help people or help a business by changing how things are worded or presented.”

In his first year, Flores joined Pi Sigma Epsilon, a co-ed professional business fraternity. He grew connections with like-minded students who helped him through the transition to college.

“Being surrounded by those individuals pushed me,” Flores said. “They understand that we’re all struggling, and they can help push me to opportunities but it’s up to me to seize them.

“[Their support] played the role of helping me out as a first-generation student. Plus, there are people in the organization that are in the same shoes as me and they can relate to me.”

Jennifer Stevens, assistant professor of marketing, not only taught the class that sparked Flores’ interest in marketing, but also was invested in helping him find his passion.

“Seeing Ricardo develop into a responsible business professional with strong core values has been exciting,” Stevens said. “He is a charismatic leader who is a hard worker in the classroom and is also heavily involved in supporting the UToledo community.”

Holding his Student Pacemaker Award, Flores poses with Dr. Anne L. Balazs, dean of the John B. and Lillian E. Neff College of Business and Innovation.

This summer, Flores is putting his classroom knowledge to the test as a logistics intern with Bath & Body Works. He is learning to collaborate with other teams and managers to reorganize facility space that was not being used, increasing productivity among the production employees.

“Teamwork is everything in business,” Flores said. “Not one decision is made without seeing the other side because perception is everything.”

He continues that teamwork-first mentality on campus during the school year through his campus involvement.

Flores serves on the Neff College of Business and Innovation’s curriculum committee — bringing a current student mindset to programs and class offerings. He is a member of the KLAR Leadership Academy and social fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon, serving as their leader for academic success and housing manager. Flores also works for the Student Conduct Office, and as a mentor for Primos, a program for first-generation Latino students at UToledo. And last spring, Flores received a Student Pacemaker Award, which are presented to Neff College of Business and Innovation graduate and undergraduate students for their outstanding academic achievement, University and community service and leadership.

As his final year at UToledo approaches, Flores said he is eager to help improve the human condition by fostering vulnerability and becoming a voice for underrepresented groups.

“Growing up with immigrant parents, I knew how it felt to be quieted at times. I knew when I grew up that I wanted to provide a difference in the world by giving people tools to empower them and not feel silenced any longer,” Flores said. “I’m proud of being a child of immigrants because they have taught me to stand up for injustice, but also fairness.

I struggled mentally throughout the years,” Flores said, “but once I let people know my story, they feel open to talk about their vulnerabilities and what makes them who they truly are.”

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