First generation Mav works to end hunger

Photo courtesy Cecilia Saavedra

April Knipp

First-generation college student Cecilia Saavedra describes the day she received her associate’s degree from Metropolitan Community College as the happiest day of her life.

“I was excited. My mom and dad were happy,” Saavedra said. “In my immediate family, I was the first one to graduate. I told my mom the diploma was for her, because she has helped me since I was a young girl just pushing me with school.”

Saavedra also completed Metro’s Horticulture, Land Systems and Management program before enrolling at UNO in this past summer.

She is a part of the TRIO Project Achieve program. The federally funded program provides support to undergraduate students who qualify as first-generation students, limited income students and students with disabilities. It is through this program that Saavedra met her mentor, Connie Sorensen- Birk.

“Cecilia is a person with great depth,” Sorensen-Birk said. “She sees things very clearly and beyond what appears on the surface. Issues like hunger, a lot of people will say, ‘yeah I know there are a lot of people that are hungry and we need to do something about it,’ but she understands it deeply. She observes and she’s a go-getter.”

Saavedra is working toward an IT Innovation degree. Her dream is to become an organic farmer and produce an app to help other farmers keep track of weather, pests and pesticides in the soil.

Saavedra’s mother is a survivor of colon cancer and has battled with kidney issues. During that period, Saavedra put her education on hold to help care for her family.

“My parents don’t know English,” Saavedra said. “I was translating everything, paying bills, going to doctor appointments, driving my sisters places. I felt like I was the man of the house. I was dealing with all the paperwork of the house.”

It was during this time that Saavedra decided she wanted to make a difference through organic produce.

Her mother’s doctors suggested switching to organic produce to get away from the chemicals that were making her mother sick, but that was not an option for the family of seven.

“Organic produce is expensive,” said Saavedra. “Coming from a low-income family, we didn’t have that luxury. My goal is to reduce cost for organic produce. I want to provide, especially for low-income people.”

Saavedra isn’t waiting on her degree to help others. In the past, she has worked with City Sprouts helping to sustainably grow and provide healthy, local food for the Omaha community.

She is currently co-secretary for Students Against Hunger and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Benson Rescue.

Saavedra’s first volunteer experience was about 10 years ago.

“That was the moment I realized I want to help people,” Saavedra said. “Seeing the happiness from people when you help them. That’s what motivates me to do well in life. I want to be a change. I want to help those in need.”

Upon graduation in 2020, Saavedra plans to buy land in Washington and start growing. Profits are not her goal. She just wants to find new, innovative ways to produce affordable, organic produce. She plans on naming her farm “Pachamama Farm,” which translates to “mother Earth farm.”

Saavedra is no longer the only person in her family with a college degree. Her older sister recently received her bachelor’s degree and a younger sister is currently attending UNO.

“First-generation students should be proud because you’re making your families proud,” Saavedra said. “Don’t give up on your dreams because you can do whatever you want. I want to do a lot of things. It might take a while, but I’ll get there. I’m so excited about my future!”