As a first generation student, I have faced many challenges, such as navigating through the system to get my degree as quickly and efficiently as possible. I will always remember being in community college, and listening to an advisor discourage me from my goal of a business degree and transferring to UW’s Seattle campus. She explained why I couldn’t achieve my goal because I needed to be realistic. She noted that UW was very hard to get into. At the time, I had a 3.7 GPA. She said that I was older and that UW is more for younger people who have their parents pay for their schooling. She said I was better off just getting into a certificate program, and that most people don’t even finish their associate’s degree, because, as she said, “life happens.”
It was a very discouraging experience that made me lose trust in advisors.
My family and friends support and inspire me. I have also met instructors who really bring out strengths that I would not have found if they did not say they believed in me. It means a lot when a person in a position of authority states that they believe in you, when many demonstrate through actions that they don’t. I will always remember one of my instructors who looked me in the eyes and said “you are very important and you matter.” I just laughed it off and responded with “sure,” as I looked away. She said, “No, look at me. I really do mean it. I need you to believe it too.”
What advice do I have for first generation students? I would say believe in yourself. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because it is vital that you do. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Do things even if they seem silly, because you will grow and the growth of others depends on your growth. You owe it to others, not just yourself. I see personal growth as a responsibility, because I owe it to those who are first generation students. Those who I know, those who I meet and those who have heard of me. In some circles, I’m the closest they have to someone going this far academically. People are always watching and are influenced by things you do not even realize they notice.
Other advice: 1) Build relationships with friends, faculty, staff and administrators. It makes it that much easier to navigate through college and that much better an experience. 2) Get involved. Your personal growth will accelerate the more you immerse yourself in the life of the university. 3) Get advice from more than one advisor. 4) Always be willing to help someone out. Likewise, ask for help when you need it. Finally, 5) Remain patient and persevere.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org