I’m a first-generation college student who was born and raised in northeastern Ohio. Growing up as the son of a factory worker and an administrative assistant the importance of college was always emphasized, even though neither of my parents had attended themselves. They knew of it as a gateway to a “good job,” but that was the extent of their knowledge. Seeing the financial struggles my parents had, and the friction it often caused between them in trying to support three children (with my brother having chronic health issues), my end-goal upon entering college was to get a good job and earn enough money so as to not have it be a constant stress in my life. I didn’t know much about the vast opportunities for personal and intellectual growth that college could offer, just that it could open up the door to financial security.
Upon entering Oberlin College, I had an identity crisis throughout my first two years which was especially acute during my first semester. This was mostly due to the huge jump in difficulty in my classes versus my high school experience. I didn’t know how to study, I didn’t know how to work through complex problems that required connecting distinct topics, and my grades (and confidence) suffered. My parents were supportive, but they didn’t know how to offer advice on being successful in school. As I both grappled with the difficulty of classes and being in a new social setting, I felt like I didn’t belong and like I wasn’t smart enough to succeed. Most of my friends had parents who were doctors, lawyers, professors, and various high-profile positions in the business world, while my dad was mostly unemployed throughout my high school years after the factory he had worked at shut down. I persisted, with the goal simply being making it through, but it wasn’t really until my junior year that I figured out how to learn and be more successful in my classes. A turning point was developing better study habits over time and making better use of the resources available to me.
After college, I went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and from there I came to AC as a Visiting Assistant Professor. I’ve been here ever since.
What advice do you have for current first-generation students?
You’re not alone. Austin College is an incredibly supportive environment and we all want to help you be successful. Reach out – to friends, to mentors, to faculty, to staff – we’ve got your back.
What helped you persist in difficult times?
Upon getting to college it was intimidating to talk to other people and find out their parents were doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, and other prestigious-sounding occupations while one of my parents had never even finished high school. This environment, in addition to the much more academically challenging nature of college versus high school, led to me having many doubts about whether I deserved to be there and whether I was smart enough to succeed. Fortunately, I found a good group of friends and continued putting my full effort into my classes.
What does being a first-generation student mean to you?
It’s a source of pride – I have accomplished something no one else in my family has. While in college I was embarrassed that my parents had never gone on to higher education, which is an attitude I now deeply regret, but I had a deep feeling of “imposter syndrome” back then, feeling like I didn’t belong. As an older and (hopefully) wiser person, I now see earning my college degree as the huge accomplishment it is and I am so thankful for having the opportunities to get to where I am.