Celebrating U of M First-Generation Students
Join the University of Minnesota and colleges across the U.S. as we celebrate the presence and experience of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on campus! This inaugural First-Generation College Celebration takes place on November 8, 2018, the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
Chasse's Story: Both of my parents didn’t graduate high school and my whole family has been a life with farming. I am proud of where I have come from but even more proud to be here earning my degree and going into Law School!
Bri's Story: I never thought I would get to college, but the UMN made it possible for me! I am always excited to go to class and get my education because I never thought I would get the chance to do so.
Gloria's Story: In most of my years in school, I thought First Gen was not that special at all. The only thing I know is I want to make a change in the world and that keeps me driven. Not until the day of my graduation day, my parents teared up, told me that I have gone way beyond then they expected. They told me that I have been through way more than their whole life, told me to believe in myself and continue to dream. I teared up and started to notice that I didn't realize before that my parent's hair turn grey. I didn't realize how much they have worked to just give me an opportunity to be in University to chase my dreams. I am #FirstGenProud.
Ana's Story: 13 years ago I immigrated to this country. I left my family, culture and everything I knew behind. Next semester, I will be the first person in my family to graduate college. I remember being bullied in elementary school for not speaking English, and soon I will be able to show my siblings that they can do it! You can overcome any adversity that comes ahead of you. With determination everything is possible. My dreams don’t stop here. I will pursue Law School and make my immigrant parents proud!
Alexis' Story: For as long as I could remember, my family always told me how important education was if I ever wanted to succeed in life. Their constant support not only pushed me to work hard in school, but also pushed me to graduate high school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. I walked into this collegiate journey in the dark, but I am walking out seeing nothing but the light. Now, I am graduating an entire semester early and I have accomplished so much because of the support I received from my family and friends. I am #FirstGenProud!
President Eric Kaler's Story: While I was the first in my family to be able to attend college, I was by far not the first to be keenly interested in learning. From a young age, I remember my parents always reading and rarely watching TV. They instilled in me a love of books and the knowledge and entertainment they contained. They also worked hard and sacrificed so that I, their only child, could go to college and emerge with only modest debt. That education defined me and set me on a path to success. I am proud that today at the University of Minnesota we provide that same kind of path to success to so many first-generation students.
Devona's Story: When first beginning to apply college and truly considering higher education, I quickly found difficulty in having to find out more information on how to select schools, what to find most applicable in searching for schools, how to begin the application process and so much more. It was hard searching for the information about college and applying knowing that my parents and many others around me had little to no current experience on how to navigate the first steps in achieving and stepping into a college education. Through the help of friends and my high school educators, I was able to find my way into attending the University of Minnesota. Now, I am able to push further in creating a successful future for myself, with the support of my family, and the loving environment they provided me. I am able to set an extraordinary example for my young nephews so that they can move in my footsteps in the years to come. I am an African American Woman and Senior at the University of Minnesota, and I am First Generation and Proud!
Kayla's Story: Being a first-generation college student has become a large part of my identity. I love being a first generation student! Throughout my life, my mom always encouraged me to attend college. She didn't care about what field it was, just as long as I was earning an education. I have learned the ups and downs of college and I'm incredibly grateful for programs that help first-generation college students like the TRIO Programs. After I earn my bachelors degree I plan on earning a graduate degree in higher education to help first-generation students like me succeed.
Brian's Story: Neither of my parents attended college and my first exposure to a major public university was in the 7th grade when I traveled from Colorado Springs, CO to Boulder and the University of Colorado's flagship campus for a freestyle wrestling tournament. Money was tight and we slept in the coach's unheated van at a campground in Boulder - yes in the winter months!
I got a very good look at the aging interior of the roof in Balch Fieldhouse as I recall being pinned in all 3 matches but fell in love with the campus. I left CU wanting to be admitted after high school due to the sheer beauty and unbelievable setting in Boulder. I was admitted in my junior year of high school and could have matriculated a year early but need to work to help pay for college in my senior year.
I would not be in my leadership position today at the U of Minnesota if there was not an outstanding public option for higher education in Colorado.
Juan's Story: At the age of 5, I was working in the strawberries fields with my family. I remember thinking that I did not want this for my family when I was older. When I was in middle school, I was introduced to the University of MN by participating in Educational Talent Search. I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Even though I struggled throughout my youth, I was able to my keep my passion to go to the U. My senior year in high school I was able to participate in El Puente Mentoring Program at the U. This program allowed me to build a network of supporters and helped me achieve my dream of attending the UMN. #keepthepassion #UMNFirst #FirstGenProud
Shakeer's Story: My parents raised all 20 of my siblings and I to value education. We all went to college and 15 of us graduated from college. I was the first in my family to earn and a Masters degree and a PhD. I'm proud of this fact and that legacy is why I do the work that I do.
Angela's Story: I was raised in a very poor household by a single Mom with my four siblings. I went to work when I was 12 years old, working 20 hours a week as a Telemarketer. I had the opportunity to take community college courses in high school as part of a program for disadvantaged youth, as my grades were not strong enough for PSEO. I fell in love with the academic environment! After receiving my high school diploma, I got a position at the U of M as a receptionist. With the help of Regents' Scholarship, I graduated with my B.S. in Sociology and Educational Psychology in 2006 and my M.Ed. in HR Development in 2013. I now am the Administrative Manager in Scott Hall and am thrilled to see more First Gen students at the University and that makes me #FirstGenProud.
Alyssa's Story: As a low income first generation college student, making it to college was always my dream. I could not have done it with out the continued support of my family and friends as well as the various financial donors at my institution. That in addition to the McNair Program (aimed at preparing underserved populations for graduate school) helped me also become the first person in my family to go to graduate school here at UMN!
Douar's Story: I am #FirstGenProud and happy that I even made it to college in the first place! Though I understand that my family can't help not because they don't want to, but because they really don't have the knowledge to help me navigate college, I know I'll always have their support in any other way if I need it. There's so much that I don't know as a FirstGen, but I'm learning for myself, and I'm beyond grateful for all the help that the university, and especially the TRIO SSS program, has given me. I hope to learn more new things and one day, be able to use what I've learned and experienced to help others in any way that I can.
Katie's Story: I am grateful to my parents for teaching me to value education and encouraging me to go to college, despite college being a mystery to us all. As a UMD student I felt lost and inadequate much of the time but lacked the language of “first generation” to help me understand why that was. It was an academic advisor’s off-handed assurance that I was doing fine that gave me the confidence to continue, graduate, and eventually pursue a career in higher education. It is an absolute privilege to work at the University of Minnesota and support student success every day. #FirstGenProud
Clarissa's Story: I am proud to be the daughter of very hard-working Rwandan parents, who have guided me through adverse situations. They recently completed they high education after five years and they have inspired me to work hard to do the same. I want them to be as proud for me as I was of them when I watched them receive their diplomas.
Alex's Story: I am #FirstGenProud because my family has told me how proud they are to see me become the hard-working, goal-driven person I am today!
Judy's Story: I am a faculty member at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. My dad was a general foreman at the GM plant in my hometown and my mom worked at a restaurant as a hostess. When I turned 16, I started working with my mom. My parents were proud of our state's public universities and I grew up always assuming I would be attending one of them. I am concerned about the loss of well-paying factory jobs as well as the growing costs of higher education -- together these problems make it less likely that students today will be able to afford college like I could just with my parents' earnings and my own.
Brooke's Story: I'm proud of being a first-generation student because I am truly shaping the future for myself and generations after me. It makes me feel extremely independent and strong that I have done this on my own and I now really believe there is nothing I can't accomplish.
Korina's Story: I am Anishinaabe, and I am #FirstGenProud. Over the years I faced adversities that impacted my school performance, and later made it difficult to find an institution that would understand my experiences and believe in my potential. I broke down those barriers and started this journey in higher education. With the support of community both on and off campus, I attained a bachelors and masters degree. I currently work and teach in the UMN School of Social Work. My education has provided me with great opportunities, and has allowed me to give back to my community in many ways. It has helped me “mino-bimaadiziwin” (live a good life).
Carissa's Story: I am a faculty member and associate dean in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. I grew up in a small town in southern Minnesota. My mother was a single parent and cleaned houses to provide for my sister and I. As I approached the end of high school, I knew that my family would be unable to support me in going to college, yet I was driven to continue my education. I worked nights and weekends throughout high school, college, and graduate school and benefited from student loans that allowed me to ultimately get my PhD. I am committed to supporting those underrepresented in higher education and ensuring that our university continues to serve our community.
Fernando's Story: I come from humble beginnings, roots established long ago along la frontera. These roots are still the foundation on which I stand. The ivory tower has challenged every aspect of my being and made me question my upbringing, self-worth, and my ability to succeed. In large part, I made it across the stage because I continuously re-connected to the strength within that comes from the foundation on which I took my first steps into the academy. No academic degree, position, or level of “success” within this academy will change this.
Cheniqua's Story: As a Minnesota native, the University of Minnesota was a clear choice for me. Upon coming the U, I became a part of the TRIO and College of Education and Human Development Family where I gained the support, mentorship, and resources to become a confident and successful college student. I have had the privilege of spending a semester in Washington DC, studying abroad in South Africa, holding so many incredible internships and student positions, and so much more. This May, I can’t wait to walk across that stage and collect my diploma. It’s been a long road, but I’m #FirstGenProud!
Marquis' Story: As the first in my immediate family to attend and graduate college, I am aware of my responsibility to "lift as I climb". I was also conditionally admitted into my undergraduate institution so I am always appreciative of the journey, rather than the destination. Now as a first-generation college graduate, it is my firm belief that every first-gen student should have access to same opportunities I was fortunate to receive. Because of this I am forever grateful and strive to provide spaces where first-gen students are able to be their authentic selves. #FirstGenProud
Courtney's Story: I had no idea that being first generation was uncommon. Applying to schools should’ve been my first clue; I didn't even know the University of Minnesota existed until I overheard my high school classmates talking about their dream schools. Although my parents couldn’t save much money with five children, they wanted us all to attend college. We learned the value of hard work, fumbled through FAFSA together, learned from each other’s mistakes, and now four of us have degrees! I even work for the University and continue to take classes. Today, my dad’s favorite t-shirts are all from our schools.
Brianna's Story: Being a first-generation college student isn’t something that I always think about because of the circumstance of my family. Growing up with a mother struggling with mental illness has been something not only extremely challenging but also extremely meaningful to me. I always wanted to be nothing like my mother, set myself apart from her any way that I could because of who she is and the things she has done. However, coming to college and finally truly setting myself apart from her as a first-generation college student made me realize that it is because of her that I have grown into the independent woman I am today. Knowing what it’s like growing up with biological parents who did not attend high school let alone college, has given me the drive to succeed and strive to be my best self in college. A college degree opens up more dreams than I could have even imagined as a child and I can’t wait to get handed that piece of paper in a year, the ticket to my future. Advice I would give to other first-generation students is to never let anyone tell them who they can and can’t be and to always stay true to themselves, it will take them far. #FirstGenProud #NeverGiveUp
Sam's Story: I am proud to be a first-generation student. I have two younger sisters that looked to me as a role model as I grew older. It was so important for me to show them that they too can succeed, even when the odds are against us. Growing up I had a family that supported me in my dreams to attend college, even though, we didn’t know how I would get there. My dad always encouraged me to work hard and to make the most out of everything. This year I will be the first in my immediate family to graduate from a four-year university. I get to show my sisters that if I can do it, so can they. I want to make my dad proud of what I achieved these last four years. I want to tell my story and show other fist generation students that they can do it too. My advice, be proud to be a first gen student, look at how far you've come and look how far you will go. Share your story because who knows maybe you can make the difference in the life of another first gen like you.
Hemant's Story: To be the first generation in my family to go to college means I get to live the American Dream my parents brought me here to achieve. In a time where the world seems against me, I’ve overcome many barriers to my successes, such as seeing some of my dreams shattered last minute after putting in months and even years of hard work. I’m truly blessed and remind myself that I have an opportunity that others do not. In addition, I find that my main support system is my friends on campus because my parents do not have the education or the cultural background to understand what I’ve grown to know from being an immigrant child to an immigrant adult. The first generation also means being able to create a new beginning and a new ending to each day of the story I’ve created because I’m able to learn from my mistakes and my failures so that successes are even more rewarding when achieved and I can be #FirstGenProud. Despite the barriers and challenges, I keep my head held high so that I can keep myself and my dreams from falling and I never forget to push myself—the future is bright and when you fall 8 times, stand up 8 more times and keep repeating.
Zaira's Story: To me being the first of my family to attend College shows that everything is possible. My family has always told me how proud they are of me and that is what helps me keep going in order to get a degree. They have done everything possible to help me be where I am today. Now it is my turn to give back to them by getting a degree and helping them once I start working. To other first-gen students, I would like to say that we have made it this far through hard work and dedication and to not lose sight of our goals. #FirstGenProud
Kaela's Story: My mother had never gone to college, but she always encouraged me to get an education. Growing up in the lower middle class, I knew I needed to get a higher education in order to provide for the life I wanted to live. I studied hard in school and completed many of my college credits before I even graduated high school, and I was ecstatic when I received my admission letter from the University of Minnesota. With the help of grants and scholarships, I became the first in my family to attend college, and I am now a junior studying for my BSN in the School of Nursing. I couldn't be more #FirstGenProud.
Rebecca's Story: I am a first generation student, Native American, and will complete my Ph.D. in the Social and Administrative Pharmacy this year. I recall my parents who did not speak English, grew up without electricity and running water and I thought to myself as a young child, their lives were so different from what I had. We still washed clothing by hand and I look at what I have now and am amazed. I will never forget them. They were my role models and their aspirations instilled a great desire for me to work diligently, exploring all possibilities outside the realm of my academic life. I am the current Commissioner of Health and Human Services for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Chairman of the Health Board.
Tai's Story: People have escaped countries in turmoil and risked lives to arrive in the U.S. including myself. Education is a strong value in Vietnam. I'm proud to have been a first-generation student. It's worth the journey. Now I help other students at One-Stop Student Services.
Kirsten's Story: My family moved around quite a bit when I was growing up, from Wisconsin (Go Pack Go), to South Carolina, to Indiana. We finally settled with my grandparents in N. St. Paul when I was 12. My grandma was a lunch lady and my grandpa was a mechanic for 3M. My mom worked for JC Pennys until she got a job at the U as a secretary when I was about 15. It was then that she decided to go back to school through the Regents scholarship. It was watching her study at the kitchen table that made me think that this college thing might be something I could do too.
In the meantime I kind of navigated school on my own. My family supported me, but they didn't know about all the things that were important for college (or even if I would go to college). I had planned to apply to the upholstery school when I graduated, but because it closed the same year I started to consider college. My high school adviser had filled out an application for the U, since I was on free and reduced lunch it was free, and it's the only application I filled out. After looking at all the college choices (CBS, CLA, etc.) I checked the "General College" box, because I just wanted to go to regular college. Through some miracle, I got in and joined the TRIO program.
There weren't a lot of poor kids in college, and General College and TRIO made me feel comfortable and like I belonged. I had instructors that supported me and advisers that didn't judge me when I messed up. I am very grateful for that experience. If not for TRIO and GC I don't think I would have made it through college.
Richard's Story: I looked up to my two older brothers and wanted to follow their footsteps by going to college. But then they both dropped out of college while I was still in high school. My own troubles led me to "drop out" of high school after my junior year, but I fortunately figured out a way to apply to college early. Along the way, I received my G.E.D. and eventually became the first in my family to graduate from college. With the support of family and guidance of many mentors, I went on to obtain my PhD and become a professor. I am #FirstGenProud.
Pang's Story: I represent a Hmong refugee family who came to America in 1995. I grew up frugally in tiny houses with small yards, food stamps, and Christmas gifts from the Salvation Army. My first job was in the third grade as my parents’ interpreter. My second job was in the fourth grade as a tutor for their citizenship tests. I am not disadvantaged. For to me, my family’s narrative and experiences are opportunities that have allowed me to learn skills and knowledge that many of my peers never get the chances to learn. And for that, I am truly blessed! #BADGERalumni #GOPHERphd
Blia's Story: What it means to me to be the first generation to college represents my family and Hmong people. Representing immigrants and refugees that we all can be here. I am able to receive an education that many others like me do not have the opportunity to. I am so fortunate to have an education that will guide me in life and give me the knowledge to better myself and others. I am proud of what I am doing because I'm showing others like me that college is possible and there is a way to reach for your dreams. I will be a resource to open the door of college to others after me. I hope to lift my family out of poverty through my education and at the same time to find my passion. Whether it is teaching, serving others, or traveling the world. My family is extremely happy for me that I am able to have the education to broaden my horizon. Such as learning about justice and human rights to aid me. So that I will not be limited but open-minded to the world, to make the world a better place. #FirstGenProud
Monica's Story: After 10 years of working full-time while attending college, I became the first in my family to graduate from college. Simultaneously, I parented my younger brother; recently, he became the first in our family to graduate from high school! I applied to PhD programs in Developmental Psychology and was admitted with full-funding into 8 programs. As a doctoral student at the Institute of Child Development at UMN, I conduct research on prevention programs for high-risk children and families. I strive to set an example of upward mobility through higher education to my current TRIO students, particularly those with similar backgrounds.
Kady's Story: When I first started college, I felt like everyone else was in on a secret. I didn’t even know what questions to ask because nothing was familiar. Then, I found mentors and other first gen students and realized that I deserved to be there too. I went on to get my Master’s degree in College Student Affairs because I loved college so much I never wanted to leave! There are people like myself on campus, many who are first gen, who know what it’s like to feel like you are in this alone. You are not alone. Let us help!
Joseph's Story: To be the first in my immediate family to go to college and receive my degrees is such an honor and title that I am proud to have. I hope that my experiences and journey as a first-generation underrepresented student can inspire and open doors for others to find themselves and live their own American Dream. I am very proud and honored to be both a first-generation and underrepresented college student. I am also honored to be in a role that I can pay it forward and work with students who identify as first-generation and/or underrepresented. My advice to any first-generation student is to never give up on following your dreams no matter what obstacles or trials may come and to never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Continue to preserve and find avenue and people who would support, motivate, and encourage you. #FirstGenProud
Dina's Story: It means a lot to me to be first gen. I am the oldest child in my family so I've always had to set a good example for my younger brother and cousin so they can reach their college dreams as well. I've worked very hard to get to where I am today. Like many first-gen students, I could not ask my parents about education-related things so I often had to find help elsewhere. My family did what they could to support me and although they couldn't help me fill out my FAFSA information, they gave me the love and support I needed to follow my dreams. Their "si se puede" and "echale ganas" still rings in my head as I make my way through these wonderful and challenging four years. Being first gen has also inspired me to become a teacher. I hope to help and inspire first-generation students to make their way to college just like my favorite teachers did for me.
Elisandro's Story: My grandmother was born in an impoverished area of Mexico and immigrated here when my mother was a child. They were not afforded the same opportunities as I was having been born in the United States but they were undeniably the most intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious people I know. That has driven me to be the first in my family to not only graduate with a four year degree but also complete a master’s degree in library science. Thank you grandma, thank you mom.
Minerva's Story: I left my family to pursue college here with the firm belief that if I wanted to be better and do better for my community and family, I had to invest this time (and money) to develop myself, build skills, and earn that degree. Along the way, I doubted my decision. I missed my family. The obstacles I faced seemed insurmountable and my little brother and sister were growing up without me. Over one of the breaks, I went home and my little sister read me an essay she wrote about me being her role model; I knew I had to finish.
Now, with two degrees at hand, I am grateful to serve #UMNFirst generation students as the director of TRIO Student Support Services.
Miriam's Story: I am #FirstGenProud because I know it is not easy. Growing up, my parents had always been my number one fan, and it was not any different when I entered college. The "tu puedes, te queremos" were repeatedly said especially when my parents did not know how to help me. As their first child to attend college, we learned a lot of lessons together. Early on, I realized the importance of advocating for myself. Something as simple as asking my parents for their tax information way before the deadline because as much as they love me, meeting a deadline required a lot of work. In a way, I know my enduring and lessons-learned with me prepared them to be able to support my younger siblings when their turn came.
In my current role, I feel incredibly motivated to help other FGEN students achieving their educational dreams. Every student that graduate is a motive of a big celebration!
Laura's Story: Unsure where to turn at first, great staff convinced me to stay on campus. Neither of my parents have a Bachelor's Degree. Before my senior year, I decided I would complete a second one so they would each have one to hold in a graduation photo.
Will's Story: I was never scared - just excited - to attend college more than 700 miles away from my hometown in rural Virginia. When I arrived, it became clear that I faced different challenges than my peers who had more access in terms of cultural capital and other resources. It didn't take long for this acknowledgment to morph into pride. Through my overcoming of various barriers, I had demonstrated resilience and earned my place. Now, 15 years later, I serve as a role model every day for first-generation college students in the President's Emerging Scholars Program. No career could be more rewarding.
Nancy's Story: My parents never had the opportunity to receive a college education since immigrating to the states as refugees from the Secret War in Laos. My siblings and I had to help each other pave the way to access higher education with the guidance of wonderful teachers and advisers during high school and throughout college. I am a proud TRIO student and am so proud to be a first-generation student. Our hopes and dreams also matter for ourselves and our loved ones.
Joe's Story: It has been known in my family that education is one of the most important areas in your life. No one can take it from you. I am beyond proud to be a first-generation student! Thank you to my mom, dad, and family members who have immigrated to America. I love you!
Troy's Story: I love being first-generation. My Mom and I are very close and every week we hop on the phone and catch up with each other. She’s about 5 hours away from me, and every time we are on the phone we talk about my classes and what I am learning. I know that being at school is so much bigger than just me because I get to bring home new knowledge that she gets to learn from, too. She’s always so excited for me. Even though being first-gen can be hard, it’s those phone calls that make it worth it.
Steve's Story: I am proud to say that I am a first-generation college student. I am proud to have completed my degrees and to be a strong role model for my daughters, nieces, and nephew. I also hope to be a role model and example for the first generation college students I have the honor of working with every day.