- First Generation College Students
The First Billikens Project
The First Billikens Project
Celebrating and supporting the accomplishments of those who are "first in their family".
Karla Scott, Ph.D.
Todd J. Foley
I did not realize I was a first generation college student until the spring 2012 semester. What is odd is that I am over 50% completed with my Ph.D. in Higher Education.
Education was always emphasized in my home. As children, we grew up knowing a college degree was an expectation. I never gave my parents' education status a second thought because they were both taking college courses at the time I entered college as a full-time freshman student. However, I was able to complete two degrees before my father completed his B.S. degree. Despite being just a couple of courses shy of completion, my mother still has not earned a B.S. degree. I am proud to say that every single one of their five children has earned at least a B.S. degree, and three of us have masters degrees. I am grateful to my parents for instilling the expectation, fueling the desire and providing all the support they could!×
Dr. Karla Scott chose to submit the following picture in lieu of a story. She said it nicely sums up her experience as a first generation college student.
My first day of college, I got up at 5:00 AM for my 8:00 AM class, and sat outside the building, which was locked, for an hour before someone let me in. I was so nervous that the teachers and other students would realize I didn't belong there, I wanted to make sure I was first in the room. In a way, I wanted to prove to myself that I belonged there.
When I was in high school, I was a "D" average student and my guidance counselor actually told me I'd never go to college and to "forget all that nonsense". After I scored a fairly high grade on the SAT, I was accepted into all six colleges and Universities I applied for. Now, I am working toward my Ph.D. and I teach college students.
Life is made up of the tiny decisions you make, so make good ones.
I never thought of myself as ‘first-generation’. My only thoughts were that I was doing something no one else in my family had done, and for me, that was a lot of pressure. But the faculty and staff at my college supported me every step of the way and now I am at SLU to do the same.
Being a first generation college student doesn't put you at a disadvantage. If anything, it gives you an open-mind and a new perspective. I found that being the first in my family meant showing all my younger brothers (and my older ones) that it was possible, and that a college degree is attainable for anyone. ×
I joined SLU shortly before my oldest son started his sophomore year of high school for the tuition remission benefit. Very soon after I began working here I had a conversation with him about Renaissance art. I had no idea what he was talking about. I knew then that I needed to go to school if I was going to make sure he made it to college. I had to educate myself if I was going to help him succeed.
Education has changed the way I look at the world. It has changed my level of understanding. It has broadened my perspective. It has helped me educate my children. In the past if they brought home math or chemistry homework from grade school I never knew how to assist them. The result was mediocre homework grades. They struggled because I struggled.
I did not realize until I started attending college myself the number of obstacles faced by those who have never been to college or had someone in their family attend college. Just maneuvering through the paperwork: FAFSAs, online registration, computer programs, understanding terminology, etc., can be a very daunting and nerve racking experience. Not only do you not understand the processes, you often do not understand what various terms mean or who to talk to about what you do not understand. I never knew what a Registrar was before I started college.
Education has given me the tools needed to aid my extended family and friends with advancing the education of their children. I guess the best way to explain it is, "we don't know what we don't know, if we don't know it, sometimes we need help."
I am a first generation college graduate in my family, an alumnus of SLU (1984), and currently employed by SLU in the School of Medicine CME Program.
My older sister began her freshman year at SLU, transferred to another local college for her sophomore year, and then transferred back to SLU to complete her college education, subsequently graduating the same year I did. We are first generation college graduates.
Our father immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a young child in the early 1930’s. Despite the economic hardships of that era and a return to his homeland for a few years, his parents insisted he stay in school and he did obtain a high school diploma. Typical of “the greatest generation”, he was a blue-collar worker and practiced a strong work ethic. Our mother also completed high school, but, as many wives of that era, was a homemaker and stay-at-home mother who did not work outside the home. Our parents struggled to raise nine children on a single income, and although not heavily involved in post-high school educational decisions, they valued a good education and supported our decision to seek higher education. They could not offer any financial assistance, but were willing to make what sacrifices they could to allow us the opportunity to seek a college degree.
One of these sacrifices was purchasing a used car as a second family car, mainly for my sister and me to commute to the university and part- time jobs. Up until that point, we had one family car, which my dad drove to work.
Because my sister and I pursued two different areas of study, our class schedules did not coincide. On most days, she commandeered the vehicle because she had morning classes and a part-time job in the afternoon. My classes ended later and my part-time job did not start until the evening shift at our hometown hospital, which left me stranded at the university. I had four options
- Public transportation (bus), involving a transfer in downtown St Louis to across the river in IL
- Sharing a ride home with an acquaintance from high school who also attended SLU, or
- Sharing a ride with a “stranger” from our hometown who also commuted to SLU (located through the use of the SLU printed student directory)
- On rare occasions, riding home with my boyfriend, now husband, who was also from my hometown, but was attending the law school (contrary to my mother’s opinion that we met at church, we actually “met” at SLU, but that’s a whole other story).
During my years at SLU, I utilized all of those options, most of them uncomfortable and inconvenient requiring extra travel time and prolonged periods of “waiting”, not just for me, but also sometimes for my driver.
The biggest obstacle regarding limited transportation was during my senior year in fulfilling my practicum requirement. Dr. Shirley Anderson, who was the Department Chair for School of Allied Health Professions at the time, and a professor of the program I was in, Medical Records Administration, arranged a practicum for me at Barnes Hospital. The only way this was possible was that on the days that I did not have transportation to get to my "real" job on time, she personally picked me up at Barnes and drove me to Saint Elizabeth Hospital (now Gateway Hospital) across the river in Granite City, IL.
I know this must have been miles out of her way, in the opposite direction no less, but she happily volunteered so that I could fulfill my practicum experience. I will never forget that generosity and the sacrifice from a college professor who literally “went the extra mile” to ensure a valuable and successful college experience for one her students.
This is just one of several stories of obstacles/successes relating to my experience as a first generation college student, not the least of which was financing my education, but others, including classic “college car” stories, and, of course, meeting my husband of 28 years. I feel this is the one that best exemplifies the struggles and sacrifice made by family, faculty, and student to obtain a college degree. As my husband describes, “it is [an accomplishment] that no one can ever take away from you”. ×
Way back when the earth was cooling, I left our family farm in rural South Carolina to embark on an educational adventure. My first stop was a small, highly selective liberal arts college about 3 hours from home.
I was excited and terrified. I just knew I would be homesick and that eventually, they would discover I was an academic fraud incapable of college work. Fortunately, I was wrong. The faculty and staff there could not have been more supportive. Demanding-yes, but supportive in ways I could not imagine. The only way I have to pay back the debt I owe to those wonderful souls is to be that kind of support for first-gens at SLU.×
Hello, I am Letrice "Lee" Young, and I am more than elated to share my story with you of being the first one in my family to graduate from college. I begin this sharing with an understanding that I am "keeping it real" as you all say in today's vernacular.
I come from a mother and a father who did not attend high school, and who could not give me quality of life that I, as a child, felt I was entitled to have. For me that meant a nice home, vacations, spending money on the weekend, etc. Well, I did not have any of that, and it was that "living without" as a child that fueled my desire to do well in school. I would often listen to my teachers from grade school all the way to high school, as they would say, “Get your education!" Not only have their words remained in my heart to this very day, but they also have taken root in my professional philosophy as I work with students to this very day. It was my Kindergarten - 12th grade teachers that laid the foundation for me to succeed in college. Although I was a participant in a college preparatory program, I still caused myself to have a slight detour that caused me to extend my undergraduate career by an extra year and a half. Were it not for the continuous recalling of the mantra of my K - 12 teachers, e.g. "Get your education!", I would not have been able to reach within myself to find that power and to finish my degree. It would also be the strong desire to make a difference in society that would be the catalyst for me to complete a few other advanced degrees.
At the present time, I am blessed to be returning to Saint Louis University as a doctoral student majoring in Educational Studies with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction.
In closing this story, but never my advice to you, young people, I must say the following:
1) Take advantage of all that Saint Louis University has to offer, especially the resources (people and offices) who are here to help you during your matriculation.
2) Realize your role in life is far beyond these four years in that God brought you here to Saint Louis University for a reason.
3) Listen to your parents. Listen to your professors. Listen to your counselors. But most importantly, listen to the Voice of God, for it is His direction that is responsible for guiding your life. Take care, and I am but an e-mail message away: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many blessings bestowed upon you as you say good-bye to the past and embark upon the future!
In Genuine Service,
Jeremiah 29:: ×
I'm not sure how I was even introduced to the idea of going to college. I think it was just a product of all of my friends planning to do so. It certainly wasn't talked about or encouraged at home – it was just something unfamiliar as an aspiration in my single-parent family. My dad worked in a factory, and my siblings both entered the military.
How I ended up at a private, Catholic, Jesuit University is even more of an anomaly. I now understand it was destiny. But even with my appreciation and connection with the Jesuit mission and now long-standing commitment to serving students as they encounter and succeed in the college environment, it doesn't mean the first steps of entering college were easy.
I remember feeling overwhelmed, like I didn't fit in. I was surrounded by people who represented so many things that I was not – students who were of a higher socioeconomic class, students who were much more academically prepared, students who were from private high schools, students who were Catholic, and students who understood what to expect from college and had support at home to navigate the challenges they faced.
There were times when I was so homesick, but felt I couldn't tell my dad who had sacrificed everything to pay my tuition.
Despite the challenges, I succeeded – not only receiving a Bachelor's degree, but a Master's and Doctorate to follow. I'm not sure anyone in my family anticipated that path of academic achievement and commitment.
My advice to other first-generation students, is to 1) realize you're not alone, 2) connect with people on campus who are here to support you and aid in your success, 3) take advantage of every available campus resource, 4) keep an open mind with your peers – you never know who you'll most connect with, and 5) give yourself a vote of confidence – you can do this!