First-Gen Student Connects and Achieves at EICC  

Jennifer Solis is one step – really, two years – closer to a degree in criminal justice and her future career as an immigration attorney.  

Solis graduated with an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice in May 2023 during the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) commencement ceremony on the Muscatine Community College (MCC) campus.  

“This is pretty exciting as a first-gen student. This is something my family has never really experienced, a college graduation. It is a first for all of us,” she said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished something really big, and my next step is going to university. I’m really excited.”  

Solis plans to transfer to the University of Iowa and focus her studies on law and criminal justice. “I've always had that thing inside of me where I've wanted to help other people. It’s a career that interests me so much about how our politics and our laws work,” Solis said.  

And after two years at EICC, she’s ready for a large campus experience. “I was going to go to university after high school, but I realized I wasn’t ready for that big transition,” she said, explaining she grew up in a very small community. In fact, there were only 56 students in her graduating class.   

Starting her college education at EICC meant Solis wouldn’t be sitting in overflowing lecture halls or be a stranger to her instructors.  

“I’ve made good friendships here. Overall, there was a real sense of community,” she said. “I know my peers by their first names, not just as the person who sits next to me. The smaller classes and the student clubs really helped me connect one-on-one with all of them,” Solis said. 

“Now that I know what college is all about, I’m ready for the big next step,” she added. 

At EICC, Solis was active in Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the International Honor Society for two-year colleges. She was one of 10 PTK members from MCC who, in 2022, attended the International Catalyst Convention in Denver, Colorado. She met people from across the world. “We all have the same passion to make our college better for all students who attend and to make sure everyone feels comfortable and welcomed,” she said.  

Solis accomplished a lot at MCC, and the most memorable was being awarded the Gordon Graham Leadership and Ethics in Criminal Justice scholarship. Only one student is chosen to receive the national scholarship, and she was thrilled it was her.  

“My PTK advisor, Deana Dawson, really pushed me to apply for that scholarship and I’m so thankful because without her help, I probably wouldn’t have applied,” she said.  

Solis is thankful for the support of her family, friends, and EICC faculty who were available when she had a question or needed some guidance. And they were there for her at graduation, too, applauding and celebrating her accomplishment.  

“I think in a sense my family is probably happier or prouder than I am,” she said. “They waited for this for a very long time, and they’ve seen me struggle, study, and pull all-nighters. They are very, very excited, especially my parents,” Solis said.  

“If there is anything I could say to new EICC students it will be that everything is going to be OK. Sometimes it gets hard and you feel like you can’t do the work. But as long as you push yourself and you know all of the faculty is there ready to help you, everything will be OK,” she added.  

Learn more about EICC Criminal Justice programs