Katherine Felts

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First-generation students, who don't have a family history of higher education, are a group that make UW Tacoma a very special place. Read their stories as they tell, in their own words, about the challenges they overcame on their path to success.

Katherine Felts, UW Tacoma first-generation studentBeing 1st Gen is to me about resilience, leadership, and adaptability—pretty traditional Army values. Being first at something involves a lot of work, wits, and talent. It’s not easy and it gives the bearer of the title both pride and burden. It’s natural to want to focus on your success and your pride, but the burden of being 1st Gen is the necessity of building from the ground up. There are no foundations besides the ones you lay with your own sweat and tears.

One of the biggest challenges for me and for my family was understanding the roles that each of us could play in college preparation. We didn’t know what resources there were because we didn’t even know we needed resources. I didn’t learn what the PSAT or SAT were until it was time to register for the PSAT, when my best friend had to pull me aside and explain it all. Even if my mom had known to save for my education there would not have been extra money to save. We felt blindsided by the complexities.

My strength and my support both lie in my community. I’m the daughter of two veterans and the spouse of an active-duty soldier. Moving every three-to-five years makes it difficult to do anything consistently, or to know the people around you deeply. Difficult, but possible. Time consuming, but attainable. Having friends who understand my "unique" challenges and circumstances grounds me enough to keep going, but I would never have been prepared for this journey without my non-1st Gen friends. The ability to experience many perspectives, to show humility in the face of what I don’t know, has helped me to grow and thrive. The people who love me through it all are what keep me moving forward.

I’m a 27-year-old gender studies major: I will be ten years out of high school by the time I graduate from UW Tacoma. For about four of those years, I pursued majors that I felt would lead to financial stability, but about which I wasn’t passionate. For the next four years, I tried convincing myself that college wasn’t in my budget, that it was a bad financial decision anyway, and that I didn’t want to lose the time I could be earning money and building a resume.

Now, at year nine, I am finally succeeding, and I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be. I have a major I LOVE and grades my family loves, because I CARE now—who knew that helped!? I am driven to succeed and do better. I am finally getting my degree—not for my mom, not for my family—just for me. I’m ready to see what I’m capable of within my own parameters. My biggest obstacle was always my fear that I didn’t belong, or wasn’t going to measure up. When I gave myself permission to choose a major for me, and not for my family or for some unknown future career, I gave myself permission to succeed. I finally chose something that spoke to my spirit and my identity, rather than my wallet.

As found on a sticky note that a kind spirit left in the bathroom in GWP: “Do you. Do it with confidence. You got this!”

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March 23, 2017