Douglas Epps

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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.

Douglas Epps, '13, '15, UW Tacoma testing coordinator and first-generation graduateFirst generation means making a choice to take control of your life and your future, committing yourself to the unknown to strive for a dream. There’s this sense of stepping into uncharted territory and you’re not quite sure if you will survive the journey, but you know that, in the long run, it will be a life changing endeavor if you succeed.

I knew it was possible for people to get college degrees, but it never seemed tangibly possible for me. I never took the SAT’s and never met with a high school guidance counselor. I can’t even recall meeting a family member who had graduated from college so it was completely foreign to me. In my family, there was a much higher likelihood of ending up in a state penal institution rather than an institution of higher learning. My father went to prison when I was eleven, and much of my childhood was spent living in poverty. In my subculture, success was more about finding a good paying job out of high school that could potentially support a relatively comfortable living. The idea of spending years (and a substantial sum of money) in college in order to find a career you were actually passionate about had this estranging notion of luxury attached to it.

After high school, I spent several years working in various entry level positions. Even though some were considered “good” jobs, they were never jobs I enjoyed or was passionate about. When I made the decision to go to college, it was a huge (and scary) commitment. I willingly agreed to live with less than half of my previous annual income and not work full time so that I could focus on my studies.

Once I started at UW Tacoma, several faculty members were extremely supportive: Tom Diehm and the rest of the Social Work and Criminal Justice Program were always encouraging. Rich Furman was a significant factor in my decision to pursue doctoral study and provided many opportunities to explore the obscure world of getting published in academia. Two books and several publications later, I’ve built up a respectable CV and the confidence to pursue a PhD.

In 2013, I graduated magna cum laude with a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology and social work and in 2015 I completed my master’s in social work. I will be attending the University of California, Berkeley's School of Social Welfare for my PhD in the fall.

Stepping into the unknown is scary, but if you vigilantly fight that persistent self-doubt, humbly ask for more information when needed and simply keep pushing forward, the sky's the limit. As Frederick Douglass once said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

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March 23, 2017