My father spent terms at Rider College and the University of Tennessee before dropping out in order to marry my mother, who had no college education. Later, he did complete an associate degree at a community college while holding down a full-time job. My sister and I were the first generation to complete a bachelor's degree, and I am the only one to complete a graduate degree. My paternal grandmother, who had succeeded in the business world without a degree, strongly encouraged all of us to pursue our education as far as we wanted, as undoubtedly she saw in the 1950s and 60s how formal education opened doors that were shut to those without qualifications. While in college, I had a particular career path in mind, but both my institution and my family permitted me the intellectual growth that can come from the pursuit of inquiry, and they both supported my shift into an academic life and career path.
My mother graduated from high school and my father was unable to complete high school due to the demands of farming during WWII. Out of 6 children, my oldest sister completed college, two completed associate degrees and I married and started a family after a year of college. Over the next several years, I struggled to complete my degree while working full-time and raising my children. I grew to understand the need for a degree in my ability to support myself and my children after going through a divorce. I graduated from college 20 years after graduating from high school. I wish I understood how important it was to complete my degree right after high school. It is a regret of mine as it would have made life much easier.
I was the first in my family to attend & graduate from college; two years at Bethel College and graduated from University of Minnesota.
I come from a long line of farmers, store owners, millers, miners, wives, and mothers: none of whom went to college, and many of whom did not attend high school. I have spent most of my life in higher education, and value the grounded, hard-working background of students who, like me, are the first generation in their family to go to college. Being the first generation to be college educated means embracing the life of the mind, without losing touch with your roots, and that part of who you are. I am always happy to connect with others who are facing that challenge.
While my maternal grandmother had (proudly) attended Knox College for two years during the Great Depression, and my mother attended Illinois State University, neither earned a 4-year degree. My grandmother (a teacher with a two-year Certificate of Education) was insistent that her grandchildren attend college... Most of us (my cousins and I) did manage to attain bachelor's degrees. My older brother and I are Luther grads. Another cousin graduated from the University of Wisconsin... another from Ivy League Brown University. My working class family made great sacrifices to send us to college... My father was a factory worker and plumber for a city water works, and my mother was a civil servant. My parents were extremely proud to have us both graduate from Luther College.
I was the first in my family to attend college and I can recall specifically my college search process. I lived with my dad (my mom had died when I was in 7th grade) and my three siblings were at least 10 years older and they had not attended a four-year college. I applied to two colleges, Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Not knowing much about the college search process, financing college, and more importantly what questions I should be asking, my search process was quite narrow, the outcome of which led me to UMD. At times during my undergraduate career I would wonder what had I missed by not going to Gustavus.
One significant aspect I missed out on was the residential experience. I lived at home for my entire undergraduate career (5 years!). I now know how the intimate nature of a residential, liberal arts campus can deliver powerful opportunities for learning, relationships, and more. I have seen first-hand how valuable an experience at a residential, liberal arts college like Luther can be. In fact, I have worked at 4 other similar institutions.
I was fortunate to have two wonderful academic advisors and engaged, caring faculty within my major at UMD (much like faculty here at Luther). As a sophomore, I was selected to be an orientation peer advisor within the College of Liberal Arts. The supportive staff with whom I worked helped me to expand my career horizons and led me to become more purposefully engaged on campus.
My sincere wish for first-generation students is that you make this place yours! Seize the opportunities available, stretch yourself, believe in yourself, and don't hesitate to ask anyone, including any of us listed on this web page for advice and counsel. We believe in you and want you to fully experience the power of the Luther experience!
My parents grew up during the depression. As a result, they both only had a high school education. Nevertheless, my Dad worked his way up the ladder at John Deere where he started as a welder's assistant. Later he was asked to manage factories in Germany and South Africa, which is where I grew up until I was 12 years old. When it was time for me to consider college I visited Luther but decided it was a little too close to home in Moline, Illinois. So instead I went to the farthest Lutheran school from home (Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington). Not only that, I went there sight unseen! It was a leap of faith that turned out very well. I had persuaded my parents that PLU was a good choice since it had a great School of Business, but I never got out of the Humanities. I got a great liberal arts education and wound up pursuing an individualized and interdisciplinary major.
I was a first generation college student. My mom completed a 1 year business school and my dad decided to drop out of college after he joined his father in ownership of the family business. I was lucky to have a lot of support from my parents. Thankfully, I knew that I wanted to major in social work and Spanish and study abroad, so finding a college to meet those requirements really narrowed down my search process. They were with me each step of the way and we all learned together about the college experience. I was expected to work and maintain my grades and they would help as much as they could financially in addition to taking out loans. I got really good at seeking out paid experiences on campus that helped boost my resume and either make money or reduce my fees. When I decided to go to graduate school, they continued to be supportive and by that time I understood the entire process required to be a successful student. I again sought out paid opportunities and applied and received a full time graduate assistantship, which allowed me free tuition and a monthly stipend. It felt great to be in a position to not even need financial support from my parents. I enjoyed my overall college experience so much that I always had a strong desire to work in higher education. And now, I am proud to say I made that happen.
Although I was not educated in the United States, I shared many of the challenges common to first generation students. Although college was decades ago, I still remember arriving on campus, completely lost and feeling very alone. I did not know the culture and I knew no one. No member of my high school class was there. The lectures seemed as if they were being taught in a foreign language because, although I had matriculated with "A levels", with a strong grade in English, I found the vocubulary difficult to understand. My classmates were mainly from urban Jamaica and some had travelled abroad frequently. I was from rural Jamaica and had not travelled abroad.
It quickly became evident to me that my education was different from theirs even though we had similar qualifications. I felt like an imposter. I can still remember spending hours sitting by myself in the Chapel Gardens trying to answer the questions, who am I and what am I doing here? Gradually, over some months, I came to realize that I was there because I wanted to be. Going to college was my dream from as far back as I could remember. It was also my mother's dream for me. There were no resources like SASC and SSS but there was a library and I practically lived there, taking advantage of its resources to help build the skills I needed for success. I went to all my classes, did all my homework and studied with the friends I had made. My first year was very challenging but I made it through, and those successes made the years that followed much easier to manage. I had proven to myself that I could do it, and my confidence grew as did my motivation to succeed. From that shaky start, here I am today.
As a first generation college student, college was surprising and challenging. Given my socio-economic status, I worked full time and took 12-14 credits a semester, so I had to learn quickly the balance between work and schoolwork. To ensure I did well in my classes, I took fewer classes; because I couldn't work less and survive. College was amazing because I was also able to do collegiate model United Nations. Our team was one of the best in the nation and internationally. A lot of what I learned doing MUN and running for college senate helped me become a successful teacher and professor.
I went to college, lived at home and worked cleaning houses on weekends while an undergraduate. It was like living in two worlds. My sociology professor told me that I wouldn't be able to do that for long. I think he was wrong. I occupied a working class home and a liberal arts world of the mind just fine. It is all about balance.