We Are First Generation

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UW Tacoma takes pride in serving students who are the first in the family to attend college. Many UW Tacoma staff and faculty are also first generation. Read about the diverse experiences and strengths they bring to our learning community. Get advice about what it takes to achieve your dreams!

 
José Rios

José Rios

UW Tacoma Associate Professor, School of Education
PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison
MS, University of Wisconsin, Madison
BA, Oberlin College

“Being First Gen means honoring the sacrifices of my elders who made my education possible. I persist because of the love of my family and my desire to make them proud. Explore the possibilities! Engage your gifts!”

Tanya Grace Velasquez

Tanya Grace Velasquez

UW Tacoma Senior Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
MA, University of Washington Tacoma
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

One of the best things about being a first generation college graduate is discovering all the wonderful ways having a degree will change your life.

“Daily I’m reminded of how meaningful my education has been to me and my family. I hope students make the most of their time at UW Tacoma and experience the power of a transformative education!”

Chris Beasley

Chris Beasley

UW Tacoma Assistant Professor
PhD, DePaul University
MA, Roosevelt University
BAS, University of Minnesota-Duluth
AAS, Lincoln Trail College

“My biggest challenge has been to recognize the greatness within me and the potential to shape the world around me.

Keep stretching your imagination about what is possible.

“Sometimes what seems like a failure today can be what defines your success tomorrow.”

Zvon Casanova

Zvon Casanova

UW Tacoma Center for Student Involvement Program Assistant
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

“It can feel like you’re jumping off a cliff and learning how to fly on the way down. But life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Commit to something you WANT to do, carve your own path and take ownership of your journey.”

Gurchetan Singh

Gurchetan Singh

Software Engineer
BS, University of Washington Tacoma

“If a voice whispers in your ear that ‘thou shalt not fail,’ do not fear failure and temporary setbacks. Don’t hesitate to ask what you don’t know! Be humble, yet fearless, patient yet hustling. Stay persistent in your efforts and at the same time be adaptive.”

Maria Reyes

Maria Reyes

Pierce College to UW Tacoma Academic Advisor
MSW, University of Washington Tacoma
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

“I kept questioning myself and feeling I was not good enough. What kept me going was my family. I knew there were others looking up to me.

Don’t give up! Be the first!

Levon Williams

Levon Williams

UW Tacoma Equity & Inclusion Student Retention & Community Development Specialist
BA, Fordham University

“Being First Gen means you are on a path to changing your family trajectory. I was forced to think differently. Being First Gen built dedication, grit, flexibility and commitment.

“Remember that you are changing the landscape of your future.”

Bernard Anderson

Bernard Anderson

UW Tacoma Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life
PhD, Mercer University
MS, Capella University
BS, University of New Orleans

“Being First Gen means developing unwavering resilience and persistence while navigating the demanding journey that is the college experience. It is powerful and affirming to come to the realization that asking for help is a sign of strength and maturity.”

Deborah Petri

Deborah Petri

Senior, Business Administration
Global Honors

“I’m establishing a new path for those who see me as a role model. Often, the only thing that keeps me going is the encouragement of my friends, family and boss. Professors and advisors often know about resources that aren’t widely advertised. Talk to them!”

Mikel Pircey

Mikel Pircey

Senior, Environmental Sustainability
Giving Garden Coordinator

“The journey as a First Gen has had an enormous impact on me. I draw support from all those around me: family, friends, and the UW Tacoma community.

Being First Gen means so much because it’s giving me opportunities I never would have had.

Wendy Bracamontes

Wendy Bracamontes

Junior, Social Welfare

“You are capable of so many things. Even though life has thrown you curveballs, you still made it. Through your hard work, you have achieved something amazing: going to college.

When your motivation wavers, just remember: keep pushing on!

Cindy Thao

Cindy Thao

Senior, Healthcare Leadership

“Being First Gen means setting a vision and achieving it. I used to see culture, family and money as my challenges. Now I know that the only challenge I faced was myself. You have to do it when you’re ready, go at your own pace, and NEVER TAKE NO for an answer.”

Victoria Hill

Victoria Hill

UW Tacoma Director, Student Financial Aid & Scholarships
MAIS, University of Washington Tacoma
BA Sociology, The Evergreen State College
AA Human Services, Tacoma Community College

“I have experienced a number of challenges in my life. I am conscious of my own weaknesses, and am grateful that I have found the ability to ask for help. Keep a positive outlook and understand that failure is an integral part of success and always a learning opportunity.”

Read Victoria's Story

Roseann Martinez

Roseann Martinez

UW Tacoma Assistant Director of Student Advocacy
MSW, University of Washington Seattle
BA Sociology, Westmont College

“I get strength from my mentors and peers that have paved the way for me. I stand on shoulders that have borne the brunt of discrimination and prejudice. I rely on faith and hope to get me through the hard times. I feel supported by the young people that are following. Their strength and determination is unmatched, is supportive, and keeps me going.”

Read Roseann's Story

Nedralani Foisaga Mailo

Nedralani Foisaga Mailo

UW Tacoma Office of Equity & Inclusion
Program Support Supervisor I
BA University of Washington Tacoma

“There aren’t a lot of Pacific Islanders in higher education. My succeeding sets the tone so that others like me can do the same. I am living proof you do not have to leave your culture at the door. Embrace the challenges you’ve faced and be proud of your culture that has shaped you into the person who you are today.”

Read Nedralani's Story

Maria Isabel Crisostomo Salmeron

Maria Isabel Crisostomo Salmeron

Junior, Politics, Philosophy & Economics
ASUWT Senator
First Gen Fellows Operations Assistant

“Being the first in my family to attend college and pursue higher education as a womxn of color, indigenous and multilingual in an environment I am not familiar with means not being afraid and being resilient. My advice to others: Be one of a kind, original, individual, unforgettable, memorable, indelible, incredible!”

Read Maria's Story

Kirsten Larican Garcia

Kirsten Larican Garcia

Senior, Healthcare Leadership

“I dedicate my opportunity to my parents, grandparents and their sacrifices. My grandparents worked long hours in poor conditions to provide for our family after emigrating from the Philippines. It’s from these experiences that I find empowerment and resilience in overcoming adversity.”

Read Kirsten's Story

Kimi Mattos

Kimi Mattos

Senior, American Studies

“I have learned a lot of things the hard way: by messing up. Just getting into college is a huge task. Congratulations! My advice: Praise yourself for every victory from here on out. Take care of yourself. Make friends and ask for help, because you DO belong here.”

Read Kimi's Story

Karl Nathan Tolentino

Karl Nathan Tolentino

Senior, Arts, Media & Culture
Museum Studies minor
Nonprofit Studies minor

“I am proud to be a first-generation student and represent my Filipino culture in a space where I can be myself, use art as my outlet and share my creativity. I would say to other first-generation students, be your authentic self, and do not let anyone tell you that you are not worthy of an education.”

Read Karl's Story

Joana Cervera

Joana Cervera

Junior, Healthcare Leadershiop
Applied Computing minor

“Being first gen feels like we are carrying the weight of our families on our shoulders. I didn’t know where to start or who to go to for help, but I use failure as motivation to break down barriers. My baby nephews are my motivation.”

Read Joana's Story

James Christian Flores Da

James Christian Flores Da

Junior, Social Welfare
ASUWT Senator
First Gen Fellows Leadership Development Coordinator

“Being First Gen means persevering when I feel defeated. It means to achieve excellence in hopes that I can inspire my younger siblings to achieve great heights. My advice: do more than just going to class. Your outside experiences will be a source of happiness when your classes become overwhelming.”

Read James's Story

Hanan A. Gumale

Hanan A. Gumale

Junior, Politics, Philosophy & Economics

“I get to pave the way for my siblings and future children. As the oldest child, I know I’m setting the bar. My advice to others: Set up goals every quarter. Reflect on what you did well and what you need to improve on.”

Read Hanan's Story

Fatima Al-Kinani

Fatima Al-Kinani

Senior, Social Welfare

“Being First Gen means breaking through and clearing the road for others. My biggest challenge is myself and thinking I am not good enough. My advice to others: follow no trends.”

Read Fatima's Story

Christie Peralta

Christie Peralta

Senior, Management
ASUWT Director of Internal Affairs

“I have really bad Imposter Syndrome! I hadn’t even realized I identified as First Gen until this past year. My advice is to explore outside your comfort zone and get involved! College is a great time to explore new interest. #beboundless”

Read Christie's Story

Armen Papyan

Armen Papyan

Junior, Politics, Philosophy & Economics
Business Administration minor
Human Rights minor
ASUWT Director of Legislative Affairs

“From a young age, I was reminded of the value of pursuing higher education. Everything can be taken away, but your education will remain with you. At UW Tacoma, you will be surrounded by a supportive community of first generation students with experiences very similar to your own.”

Read Armen's Story

Araceli Tovar Carrillo

Araceli Tovar Carrillo

Junior, Social Welfare

“Being First Gen means you having to go through your own path not knowing what you are walking into. REACH out and SPEAK up to get the support and resources you need to make your path successful. Looking back the path you created will make you feel so powerful to be doing it on your own. Get educated and learn from others and they might also learn from you.”

Read Araceli's Story

Ara Papyan

Ara Papyan

Junior, Management
Economics minor

“First Gen means to me becoming a stronger person. Going to college is not only about getting a degree, it is about making connections and friends. It is about finding your FAM!”

Read Ara's Story

Apple Ortiz

Apple Ortiz

Senior, Law & Policy

“Being First Gen means doing what others have not done before, and setting an example for those after. Often one feels like giving up, but persistence is key. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Believe, and you will achieve.”

Read Apple's Story

Diana Algomeda-Villada

Diana Algomeda-Villada

Sophomore, pre-major, Global Honors
Peer Advisor

“My advice for other first-gen students: Don't give up. Keep trying because the hard work is worth it. College is giving me the opportunity to do things I never would have imagined. I know I can achieve more than I thought, and I know that I'm honoring my parents and the sacrifices they made.”

Read Diana's Story

Yuliana Ambriz

Yuliana Ambriz

Senior, Ethnic, Gender & Labor Studies
Student Activities Board Chair

“Never give up on the idea of being a college graduate, because you are investing in yourself and your future, and that, in itself, is worth everything.”

Read Yuliana's Story

Soky Chhuoy

Soky Chhuoy

Program Assistant
Office of Undergraduate Education

BA, UW Tacoma

"Being a first generation, I had my challenges ... I had to learn everything on my own. My advice—be involved and make sure to do an internship while you're in school!"

Read Soky's Story

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Assistant Professor
School of Social Work & Criminal Justice

PhD, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
MA, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
BA, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

“My advice for first generation students is to recognize that your life experiences are an asset to your own and your peers educational pursuits. Find a course of study that energizes you and look beyond ‘getting a job.’ Know that your teachers are here to support you and see that you succeed in ways that you may not yet know are possible.”

Read Jeff's Story

Lorraine Dinnel

Lorraine Dinnel, M.S.

Associate Director
Academic Advising Center

BA, UW Tacoma
MS, Kansas State University
EdD candidate, Northeastern University

"Higher education is a life-changing experience and you made it here! You belong here—believe in yourself!"

Read Lorraine's Story

Douglas Epps

Douglas Epps

Alumni

PhD student, University of California, Berkeley
MSW, University of Washington Tacoma
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

“To me, first generation means making a choice to take control of your life and your future, committing yourself to the unknown to strive for a dream. Stepping into the unknown is scary, but if you vigilantly fight that persistent self-doubt, humbly ask for more information when needed and simply just keep pushing forward, the sky's the limit.”

Read Douglas's Story

Katherine Felts

Katherine Felts

Junior
Ethnic, Gender & Labor Studies

“It's natural to want to focus on your success and your pride, but the burden of being first gen is the necessity of building from the ground up. Making friends who have the same struggles is almost always helpful, but without the friends who are different, I would never have been prepared for this journey.”

Read Katherine's Story

Nataley Guajardo

Nataley Guajardo

Senior, Law & Policy
F1G Leadership Development Coordinator

"Believe in yourself. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because it is vital that you do.

"Do things even if they seem silly, because you will grow and the growth of others depends on you. You owe it to others, not just yourself, but to those who are first generation students."

Read Nataley's Story

Hawo Guyo

Hawo Guyo

Sophomore, Pre-Major
Marketing & Media Coordinator, Somali Student Association

“A piece of advice: make sure you take care of your mental health while in college.

“It is easy to become inundated with coursework, but taking a breather makes it easier to process the material that you are learning in class. And have someone to talk to—someone who understands first-generation pressures, or even just someone who gives you the space to vent.”

Read Hawo's Story

Bob Hardie

Bob Hardie

Manager
Fiscal Support Services

MEd, University of Washington Tacoma
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

“My road to being a college graduate is certainly not the most traditional, nor did I take the easiest route. However, I am proud of my accomplishments, because, in the end, it was the best journey of my life.”

Read Bob's Story

Nhan Hoang

Nhan Hoang

Senior, Business Administration/Marketing
ASUWT Senator
Husky 100

“I got involved to be a mentor, leader and resource for first-generation and underrepresented students. I wanted to make sure no one would have to go through what I went through ... that I'm as good as anyone else.

“I am a role model for my little brother as well as fellow first-generation students. I want them to know that education and resources are options for everyone.”

Read Nhan's Story

Stephon Harris

Stephon Harris

Associate Director
New Student & Family Programs

BA, St. Martin's University

"For a long time, I doubted my skills and was not confident in my abilities. That moment you realize you belong is the moment all possibilities are open to you."

Read Stephon's Story

Christopher Johnston

Christopher Johnston

Senior, Law & Policy
Transfer Peer Advisor

"Even though my family doesn't share the reality and struggles that come with college life, I wouldn't have been able to do it without them."

Read Christopher's Story

Angela Jones

Angela Jones

Fiscal Specialist II
Finance & Administration

MEd candidate, University of Washington Tacoma
BA, University of Washington Tacoma

“It is not the challenge or obstacle that makes the difference in your life, it is how you handle those challenges that makes the greatest impact and leaves a lasting impression on the individual you are striving to become.”

Read Angela's Story

April Lai

April Lai

Sophomore, Business Administration
SAB Entertainment Coordinator

“I was pleasantly surprised to meet others who are also first generation. UW Tacoma has welcomed me with open arms and I am immensely grateful to have the support of professors, faculty and friends in my efforts to be a steward for student success.”

Read April's Story

Danica Sterud Miller

Danica Sterud Miller

Assistant Professor
American Indian Studies

BA, Western Washington University
MA, MPhil, Fordham University
PhD, Fordham University

"The best advice I can give is to talk with your professors. We are really interested in our student community and we want to do everything we can to help you succeed"

Read Danica's Story

Mark Pagano

Mark Pagano

Chancellor

BS, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
MS, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
PhD Southern Illinois University Carbondale

"I learned the hard way that life doesn’t always go the way you expect, but there is almost always a way through. It’s up to you to take what you learn and turn it into motivation and passion."

Read Mark's Story

Gabriela Raisl

Gabriela Raisl

Senior, Psychology

“As first-generation students, we represent what can be attained when you decide to write your own story. There are an infinite number of paths that can be taken to reach a goal and to accomplish your dreams. We are paving the road for those who come after us, and we're leaving them with the tools they need to build their own roads to success.”

Read Gabriela's Story

David Reyes

David Reyes

Assistant Professor
Nursing & Healthcare Leadership

BSN, Seattle University
MN, MPH, University of Washington
DNP, University of Washington

"It is important to find balance. Find time to develop and maintain relationships with the people that are important to you. At the same time, find the opportunity to reflect on your achievements, and reach out to others who can support you when you feel stress"

Read David's Story

Kayesee Schermerhorn

Kayesee Schermerhorn

Senior, Law & Policy
Student Activities Board
Issues & Controversies Event Coordinator
Husky 100

“Be proud of your accomplishment.

“You're not alone and there are many other students here that are in your situation. You may be the first in your family to attend college, but because of your hard work, you won't be the last.”

Read Kayesee's Story

Kendy Trinh

Kendy Trinh

Junior, Ethnic, Gender & Labor Studies

“When you feel like you are alone, you're not, because there are many other first-generation students that are here for you. When you doubt how good you are, reflect on how far you have come, how much you have achieved. Do not compare yourself to others—everyone has their own pace.”

Read Kendy's Story

Marcos Vieyra

Marcos Vieyra

Freshman, Law & Policy

“First-generation students carry with them boundless experience and passion. Many come from diverse backgrounds and each has a unique story to tell. There is strength in being first-generation.”

Read Marcos's Story