An avid hiker, gamer, and father of one, I grew up in the Beaumont area of Southeast Texas before going off to Tiffin, Ohio to attend Heidelberg University, a small liberal arts school much like Austin College. After graduating with a History degree and German minor, I enrolled in the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, where he began teaching humanities and met my now-wife, Erin. Upon completion of our degrees, we moved back to Texas, where I earned my Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from TCU. I like long walks in the woods with my family and dog Wally, gaming with friends around a table or online, qualitative research, and playing tennis.
As you may be able to tell from the above information, I fully embraced the pursuit of higher education, becoming more or less a professional student along the way to finishing my doctorate. Learning how to be successful in college was very much a learned skill, however, and I found myself contending with poor habits, imposter syndrome, and an unclear roadmap that all complicated things. For those reasons and more, I am so excited to be in a position to support AC students as they build their own skills and forge a path ahead to fulfill their goals.
What motivated you to attend college?
A love of learning was central to my desire to attend college. In grade school, I developed a passion for history and reasoning that I originally wanted to develop and carry into a career as a history professor, which of course would require earning multiple higher education degrees.
How did your early mentors help guide you to college?
I feel like many of my early mentors operated with an assumption that I would go to college. I had enjoyed the learning and competition of school growing up, and I think they saw that and nurtured it while also warning me about the drastic changes that I could expect once I got there. I remember my Academic Decathlon coach, Ms. Villareal, in particular challenging me to develop study skills, leadership, and capacity for feedback that would be critical throughout my academic journey.
What were your fears about going to college?
While I was excited to go to college for the chance to become my own person over 1,000 miles from my past, I also felt the vulnerability that comes with such a new situation. I had never lived with a roommate before and knew that making friends would be a challenge since I have never been the most outgoing person. I was confident that I could succeed in the classroom (though many surprises awaited me), but I was beyond grateful when I was able to make friends in the first week that would end up being pillars of support for my whole time at the ‘Berg.
What advice do you have for current first-generation students?
Embrace your vulnerability. Growth and change only come when we step into the discomfort of disequilibrium and disrupt our preconceptions and assumptions. For me, this meant introducing myself to my professors after class in the first week, saying yes to trying new activities like ballroom dancing, and putting myself out there to make friends. It also meant leaning into the different expectations of college – I remember getting feedback on a research paper draft my first semester that required me to completely alter my approach. I was disheartened by how “badly” I had done, but realized that if I wanted to be successful I would have to learn what success looked like, and how to achieve it.
What helped you persist in difficult times?
Exercise, companionship, and apples. Whether it was the gym, playing tennis, or dancing, I almost always had some way to get moving and de-stress through physical activity, something which I only realized the importance of once I was more sedentary as a graduate student. Being active and doing things that I enjoyed helped me de-stress and build bonds to take my mind off of schoolwork and other stressors. With that, having a tight-knit group of friends to commiserate and relax with provided not only emotional support but also academic support as we encouraged each other to succeed (sometimes competitively). I have also always been a night person, so I spent many late hours researching, writing, and working. In those times I always kept a steady supply of apples around for energy and nourishment – I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, so they kept me going into the wee hours when necessary and gave me something relatively healthy to snack on instead of the local Taco Bell, which already saw too much of my patronage.
What does being a first-generation student mean to you?
For me, being a first-generation student means persistence, growth, and opportunity. Entering college with less know-how than some of my peers meant that at times I felt like I had to prove myself and get out of my comfort zone to achieve my goals. Because I also lacked more well-educated perspectives at home growing up, it also meant that when I returned home, my perspectives had grown and changed from my family, sometimes causing discomfort along the way as we tried to see eye to eye in spite of those differences. The differences that I felt are a part of collegiate outcomes, though, and the opportunities that come from them. Earning my degrees opened up pathways for me that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and allowed me to chase the things that I am most passionate about.