[ skip to content ]

First-Generation Student Is Forging Her Own Path

By Matty Madden, '21

To say that Kiara (Keke) Moya-Prera has a lot on her plate is an understatement. The Old Dominion University freshman is a civil engineering major, a member of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program and a first-generation college student. While these labels tell you a bit about Moya-Prera, they don't begin to tell her full story.

Her mother was just 15 when she immigrated from Guatemala.

"She did the whole walking-across-the-border thing for three months, actually alone," Moya-Prera said. "She came because her dad passed away, and he was the one maintaining everything. He was the provider of the family. My grandmother was already sick, so there was no one else who could provide for her medications."

Once in the United States, Moya-Prera's mother found work as a painter to provide for her family in Guatemala. From there, she met her husband, an immigrant from Nicaragua. Together, they had Keke. But he changed after she was born.

"He became an alcoholic and started abusing my mom," Moya-Prera said. "She didn't want that environment for me because she always wanted the best for me. She didn't want me to go through what she went through.

"My mom and I have been through so much together. We were kicked out of the house by my dad. We were homeless for a bit. It's always been me and her."

Moya-Prera grew up with her mother in Richmond. As a first-generation student, making her mother proud is a huge priority.

"When I started high school, I saw how proud my mother was when I joined ROTC. Everything I did made her proud," Moya-Prera said. "Ever since I started school, everything I do has meant the world to my family. Becoming a leader in ROTC, graduating from high school and even something simple like me getting my driver's license was a big deal for my family because, being in a family of immigrants, it was like I'm making history. I have to set a bar for my future family."

Moya-Prera said she was drawn to the military because she recognized how many doors it could open for her. Being a part of her high school ROTC program led to a scholarship to Old Dominion.

After graduating, Moya-Prera hopes to transfer from the Navy and become an officer in the Marines. She's also considering minoring in something that could help her learn more about immigration.

Above all, Moya-Prera wants to continue to make her family proud and give back to them for the support and sacrifices they have made.

"In order to be financially stable, get my education and provide for my mom, I have certain goals to meet. One of my main goals is to make sure I can take care of her and my little sister," she said.

Meet Keke Moya-Prera in this brief video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHYsAqS0dWA

Related News Stories


ODU Confers Degrees to 2,000 Graduates at Its 131st Commencement Exercises

Patricia W. Perry and Carolyn K. Barry receive honorary degrees; Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander and Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne Jr. deliver graduation addresses. (More)

Dezmond Banks

Dezmond Banks Took a Nontraditional Path to ODU

The mechanical engineering major, who will graduate this month, had no intention of going to college coming out of high school. (More)


Here's a Student Who Began Pursuing a Master’s Degree Before Completing Her Bachelor’s Requirements

Kayla Davis will receive B.S. degrees in psychology and communication during ODU’s December Commencement Exercises. (More)

Site Navigation

Experience Guaranteed

Enhance your college career by gaining relevant experience with the skills and knowledge needed for your future career. Discover our experiential learning opportunities.

Academic Days

Picture yourself in the classroom, speak with professors in your major, and meet current students.

Upcoming Events

From sports games to concerts and lectures, join the ODU community at a variety of campus events.