Tell us about your first-generation background. What is your story?
I was born in New Haven, CT, to my mom, an insurance data entry provider, and my dad, a gasoline truck driver. My mom wanted to go to college, but her parents could not afford to send her. My dad served in the Navy for several years and came back to work as a truck driver. While both did not have a college education, they worked extremely hard to make sure my sister and I had as many opportunities as they could provide. During my fifth grade year, my parents moved to Madison, CT because of the great school system. I did not realize until later on how much my parents struggled to afford living in Madison just so that my sister and I could go to one of the top public schools in the state. We were often some of the poorest kids in our beach town, but my parents made sure we had a good sense of self and were involved in activities. I grew up in a town and in a family where it was not a question if I was going to college, but where I was going to attend.
What led you to consider/enroll in college?
Since my parents always encouraged us to pursue our dreams and attend college, I never had a doubt that I would find a way to go. The challenge for me was finding a way to afford to attend college. I got into one university that would have cost me $30,000 per year in loans, and at the time, I also wanted to go to medical school. The University of Connecticut, the state school, offered me a full room and board leadership scholarship for my grades and out of class involvement. I was a cross country and track athlete, president of student council, first chair violist in orchestra, a member of the comedy and drama clubs, and a participant in several community, state, and regional orchestras. I did not choose to participate in those activities in order to get a scholarship to college, but they certainly helped! The scholarship I received was due to my leadership and service to the high school community and beyond through those endeavors. I was invited into UConn’s Honors College, and that invitation helped me feel even better about attending the state school. The Honors College provided me the opportunity to take challenging coursework in a close-knit group with other honors students. I also got the chance to study abroad for two weeks through an honors course focused on the history of King Arthur!
Who was the most influential person in your life who encouraged you to attend college?
My mom and dad were the most influential family members as they always worked to make sure I had the ability to pursue college. They could not financially support me, but they provided rides to all of my extracurriculars, encouraged me to do my best, and helped me to have any opportunity they could afford. The most influential high school teacher I had was my orchestra teacher, Mrs. Ann Clemmons. Mrs. Clemmons provided me scholarships to attend regional orchestra competitions and the ability to travel and play my viola internationally. She invested so much time and energy into supporting my dreams. Finally, the most influential college professor I had was Dr. Trevor Tebbs. Dr. Tebbs taught my first-year honors seminar and led the King Arthur study abroad trip. He took me under his wing and helped me navigate some of the college processes I did not understand as a first generation college student.
Describe some of your fears in the first year of college and how you overcame those fears.
I tend to be really extroverted, so I was never nervous about making friends or finding ways to get involved. I was not scared of my financial resources in my first year, but by my third year in college, I realized I probably should have been more careful with my financial resources. I was terrified of talking to financial aid and the bursar’s office, and that fear was not necessarily related to anything I experienced with the staff in those offices. I was terribly afraid of doing things that would decrease my financial aid awards, and as a result, I would completely freak out if something seemed amiss with my student fees. Honestly, I often had my mom call any office that had to do with finances at the university; I knew my mom might not necessarily know all of the details of my financial aid, but she had a stronger personality than I did. Once I was in my junior year, I developed a habit of reviewing my student account about every other week just to be sure I knew my account standing and how to handle any bills.
Describe how your background helped you in college.
I grew up in a family that values building relationships with people from all walks of life. When I got to college, then, I was excited to continue to learn more about people with different backgrounds and identities than me. I also think it was positive that I did not have any preconceived notions about college because I did not place limitations on the types of clubs and classes to explore. I took everything from honors economics to ice skating to the camping experience. Outside of class, I tried Tae Kwon Do (I was terrible at it), helped to host an international night each fall, served as an RA, and was the president of my sorority, Pi Beta Phi. Since I was so involved in many clubs and organizations in high school, I had developed leadership skills that helped me feel confident when I joined collegiate organizations.
What advice would you give a first-year, first-generation student?
You have so many people at UNF who are excited to help you! It might seem overwhelming to wade through all of the information about what club to join, what office to visit for what, and so on. If you’re not sure where to go, pick at least one staff or faculty member and ask for help. It could be your RA, your favorite fall semester professor, or your academic advisor. My other piece of advice would be to learn the university systems, like Canvas, MyWings, how to register for classes, how to find and understand your financial account, etc. If you can navigate those systems, you will be in a great place for taking steps that will help you progress toward your degree. Also, you might find new career interests as you pursue your degree! I started college pre-med and loved the sciences but learned quickly that the medical field was not the right place for me. During college, I worked as an orientation leader, RA, and worked with first year programs. Now, I work with living-learning communities and other programs that help first year students find their place in college!