#UMNFirst Stories

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Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: Carlson School of Management, Accounting

My parents have always instilled in me the value of education as a first generation immigrant. Despite not having the resources to tackle the challenges that my peers can navigate easily, I stayed determined to make something of myself. As one of the few black people in Carlson, I developed an imposter syndrome thinking that I did not belong to the Carlson business school because of my circumstance and social class. It took a semester and I-Core for me to truly fit in Carlson. I believe I lost opportunities and resources trying to navigate the academic word by myself but nevertheless I persevered. I’m so glad to my advisor (Lindsay Gundecha) and professors who gave me hope and urged me to finish strong. I’m thankful to the Carlson scholarship committee for lessening my financial hardship. I take pride in being a first generation student because of all the experience that it has enabled me to gain.

My advice: My advice for first generation students is to advocate for yourself. speak to your professors, advisors and college department for any resources that you need. To be a first generation means that you have array of experience. We have a lot to offer to the world and our unique experiences makes us different. Navigating the academic world will be hard when you are the first but you are paving the way for many others. you really made it here so pat yourself on the back.

Zamzam Dini

Graduate Student

My UMN Community: Family Social Science - CFT program

Growing up with first-generation immigrant parents meant college was an expectation. However, how I would reach that goal would be a journey I would have to take on my own. When she was younger, my mother's formal education was forcefully stopped at 8th grade, so she could take care of her younger siblings while they continued on to high school. She always recalls that experience and knows how it feels to have your education taken away from you. With this story in my heart, I vowed to obtain the highest degree possible, partly in honor of my mother's sacrifice, but also to be an advocate of women's education everywhere.

Attending a Predominantly White Institute (PWI) in Washington state, as a Psychology major, constantly made me feel like I was out of place. However, I had bigger plans for myself and never swayed in my motivation. I've had program advisors say to me that I was not cut out for a PhD program and that I should settle for a Masters. I've had close family members laugh at me when I said I would obtain my PhD. I also had family members who encouraged me and reminded me of all I had accomplished so far. Not only was I the first person to graduate from college in my family, but I was also the first high school graduate in my family, even though I wasn't the oldest. After graduating with my B.A in psychology at the University of Washington, I set out to find graduate programs that complemented my worldview.

It only made sense that I chose Marriage and Family Therapy for my graduate program and decided to become a therapist as a career choice. I graduated with my Masters from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota with a 4.0 GPA this summer. I also began my PhD journey in the Couple Family therapy program in the Family Social Science department at the University of Minnesota this fall. Encouraging BIWOC, first-gen and underrepresented scholars and researchers is my goal in life and I will never stop fighting to take my place at the table and bring everyone else with me.

My Advice: Remember, no one person or school counselor/advisor controls your path or future. Take advice and criticism with a grain of salt and trust your gut. You are the expert of your own life and don't give anybody the opportunity to sow the seed of self-doubt in you. You are worthy of success, just like everybody else. Also, never compare journeys. A degree, is a degree, is a degree.

Salma's Story

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: CEHD, CCE

I attended the U as a first gen student. I struggled and was grateful to have mentors who championed me and believed in me. As a result of the connections I made I was able to successfully earn my undergraduate degree, go on to get my masters, and recently got accepted to an EdD program. I am grateful for the experiences and supports I received as a student at the U. I am passionate and determined to make sure students experience success and understand they are success.

My advice: Be yourself. Ask for help. Find community. Lean in to your story. Remember you are enough. You are worthy. You are success.

Melissa's Story

Graduate Student

My UMN Community: CLA, Department of Psychology

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I wanted to make my family proud. I attended the University of Texas to study human development and family sciences for my own goals of becoming a psychologist, but also for my parents and my extended family. While at UT, I felt like I was underprepared and unqualified. Through faculty mentorship, I was able to learn about research, graduate school, and skills needed to be successful in school. This critical guidance led me to the PhD psychology program at the University of Minnesota. Over 1,100 miles later, I found myself trying to navigate living without my family and community while trying to learn the invisible rules of a PhD program. Even though my parents are unaware of how to best support me academically, they provide me with something much more powerful: motivation and unconditional support. I am truly grateful for my parents and their hard work that has served as an example for me. I’m proud of my family’s journey and I’m excited to be able to continue to add to that legacy through my college degree and my PhD.

My advice: Look for supportive mentoring relationships and build your community of support. Remind yourself your strengths and your motivation to getting your degree during the difficult days.

Qilin's Story

Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: Department of Psychology

Throughout my childhood, I often listened to my family members talking about their stories with the college. My grandpa used to be one of the most outstanding scholars in the entire province he was in and was assured matriculation to the college for his academic performance. However, life did not give him a choice, and he failed to get into college because of the special political identity that his family holds. My father also had a chance to be a college student for his excellent performance in sport and academia. However, life also gave him disappointment on this: He suffered a severe bad injury during his senior year in high school and had to quit the school for recovery. These stories often resounded in my once immature mind, giving me the desire to achieve something that people in my family did get a chance to accomplish. Not being fully engaged in the school work before the early part of my high school, academics used to be something that I was never good at. However, the desire to get into college one day supported me to work really hard to catch up with my school work by the end of my high school career, and I was finally able to get matriculated by UMN two years ago (thank the U!!!). I can still remember how happy everyone was when I received the offer letter in the early morning! Every time, when thinking about it, I would like to appreciate the better environment provided to me at this age! I was truly lucky comparing to my grandpa and my father. Now, approaching the end of my undergraduate career, I am seeking an opportunity to do graduate study in the future! I never regretted my choice to get into college, and I am proud to be a #FirstGen students!

My advice: Be brave and always seek supports if you feel uncertain!

Kassie's Story

Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: CLA, Biology, Society and Environment (Major), Public Health, Sociology, and Population Studies (Minors)

Most of my childhood, I grew up with a single mother who worked three jobs just to make sure I could have food on the table and could participate in all of the activities that my over-zealous childhood self wanted. Though this was super important for my development, I spent most nights and weekends on my own to figure out my own homework, make my own dinner, and prep for college by myself. Without that support system that so many others get through their families, I learned to be incredibly independent and innovative. Through paving my own path and breaking generational cycles, I developed strong sense of agency and creativity in finding nontraditional ways of accomplishing my goals!

As first-generation students we struggle to gain experience and succeed in academic settings because we can't afford to work for free, we have no professional network from our parents, we have no knowledge of all the hidden rules at universities and we don't have the confidence to ask for help. This is why the drop out rate for first-generation students is four times higher than that of our second or third generation peers. I'll be getting my bachelor's degree this coming spring, with hopes of pursuing a masters degree - and boy I can not wait to beat those odds! My mom has always been my greatest cheerleader, and just seeing how proud she is to wear her gopher gear and drink her coffee out of her University of Minnesota Mom mug makes all the extra hard work worth it.

My advice: Try everything. Give it your absolute all. College is the start of your new story - but don't ever forget where or what you came from!

Samantha's Story

Graduate Student

I am originally from southern Louisiana. I am proud to be a first-generation college and now a first-generation graduate student. I never felt like I was able to have the true "college experience" in college as I had to maintain a 3.5 GPA in order to keep my financial aid scholarships and was also working part-time. I am eternally grateful to the Ronald McNair scholars program at Louisiana State University who inspired me and gave me the confidence to continue my education. I had never thought graduate school was a possibility for me but with my McNair advisor's guidance, I discovered a true passion for research. My grandfather, who served as my paternal figure, sadly died of cancer before he saw me graduate college but I was able to share with him my acceptance to the University of Minnesota graduate program and felt he was still able to share in these accomplishments with me. Leaving my family and friends in Louisiana to pursue my education in Minnesota was terrifying and exciting all at the same time...while the snow I found in Minnesota was just terrifying. A quote I repeated often during this time was, "If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough" and it helped remind me that change can be a wonderful thing. I've found such a wonderful community here in Minnesota and endless support from my advisor, Dr. Dworkin, in navigating graduate school and academia as a first-generation college student. I plan to earn my doctorate degree in Family Social Science and am excited to see what the future holds!

My advice for other first-gen students is to never be afraid to ask for help. In my undergraduate program, I was so scared to ask questions out of fear I would be found out and that the University would figure out they made a mistake letting me in. I thought everyone else knew what they were doing except for me...when that couldn't have been further from the truth! Ask as many questions as you need to and ask for help whenever and wherever you can!

Heidi's Story

Graduate Student

I am so thankful to have taken up the opportunity to become a first-generation college AND graduate (master's) student. Both my parents have associate's degrees from when times were different from the way they are now. The current job market encourages and demands higher technological, innovative, and intellectual skills than it did in the past due to all the changes that have been happening up until now, so I do not blame them. Other social factors, like when to start a family or a job, were at play as well back in the day. I recognize that I am in a different time from them and simply appreciate my ability to be a first-generation, advanced-degree daughter. It is a unique position to be in and something to feel pride in.

My advice for other first-gen students: Realize that you are in a unique and special place to be able to choose an advanced degree. Today's world needs what we have to offer as first-generation students!

Deborah's Story

Undergrad Student

My parents always wanted to attend college, and they even did attend for a couple semesters. Unfortunately, financial issues and family obligations took precedence over their higher education. Since they were not able to finish, my parents ensured to instill their same passion for higher education to my siblings and I. They also showed my siblings and I at a young age how difficult it is to come across good professional opportunities. With both of these things combined along with my innate love for academics, I was extremely prepared to attend college! However, I was not expecting that my Latinx, woman in CSE, and first generation identities would create a severe case of imposter syndrome during my first semester at college. I would always doubt myself if whether I am fully capable of completing my Chemistry and Math degrees or even if I'm fit for the STEM field. Luckily, I became involved with programs like PES and SHPE in which helped me overcome my self-doubt. Although it has not been an easy four year, I am excited to acquire my two B.S. in Chemistry and Math in May 2021 and attend graduate school for a Ph.D in Chemistry with a focus on Chemical Biology/Medicinal Chemistry. I hope to serve as a role model for my younger siblings and cousins so they know that they too are able to overcome the societal barriers that hinder them from getting their college education.

My advice for other first-gen students is to reach out for help and find your community! We have wonderful resources and programs on campus such as PES, MCAE, and TRiO that are dedicated to helping students of underrepresented identities such as first-gen students. Speaking from experience, I know some first-gen students may not reach out for help since they believe that college is an independent experience, but this is in fact the opposite! College is about academics of course, but it is also about personal growth. The best way to accomplish this personal growth is to reach out whenever you need help and find your community. Honestly, I don't know where I would be without my PES and SHPE crew. Community is very important!

Nathan's Story

Graduate Student

I grew up in rural Minnesota, about an hour outside of the Twin Cities. As a disabled person from a low-income family, getting a college education wasn’t something anyone thought I was capable of. In fact, my guidance counselor in high school laughed at me when I told her I wanted to go to college in New York. Long story short, I received my acceptance letter to that college in New York (despite graduating at the bottom of my high school class). I packed my bags and left the only place I knew to go somewhere halfway across the country. I was scared and nervous. The process wasn’t easy, but I kept reminding myself that I could do it. Along the way, I found people who believed in me, and I’m grateful for those friends, mentors and loved ones. Those wonderful people became my community; my home when I had no home. They helped me realize my passion for serving students from under-represented communities in the classroom. They helped me get through my masters, and now my PhD. That’s why I’m here today: to remind those that have been laughed at, were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t be what they want to be, that they can and that there are people who believe in them.

My other for other first-gen students: Don't give up on who you are. Don't be afraid to say when you don't know and to ask for help. Don't be scared to share your story. Don't forget to say thank you. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who love and support you and love them back.

Kendra's Story

Undergrad Student

I was sitting in my freshman seminar and the professor was talking about stereotypes of UMN students. Sitting in a chair 6+ feet from my peers with a mask on, I didn’t know how different my experiences were than most around me until he’d said that. I realized how much harder I had to work to get where I was.

Growing up, I was raised by a teen mom in a low income household. I was grateful to have a father figure in my life and food on the table everyday, but I didn’t get the same luxuries as everyone else. I got my first job at 15 and worked steady hours throughout high school so I could prepare to buy my own car and save for college. I didn’t get a personal tutor for the ACT and I’ve experienced not being able to go to the doctor because I didn’t have health insurance. I had to learn how to apply for college on my own because no one in my family had attended a 4 year university before me.

Through the moral support of my family and close friends, I am now a student in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. I plan to earn a degree industrial and systems engineering and prove everyone who thought I couldn’t do it wrong.

My advice for other first-gen students: Your disadvantages don’t make you less worthy of following your dreams. Be aware of the challenges you face and prepare for them. No matter your situation, I am proud of you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Kaylee's Story

Public Policy PhD, DVM and Faculty

I am a product of great determination. Growing up, I never left the house without hearing my father tell me to ‘study hard.’ My father went to trade school and my mother never went to college but they both knew the value of education and they never doubted my abilities. They joke now that I took My father’s advice too seriously. I’ve since gone on to attain an undergraduate degree in biology and later followed my lifelong passion to become a doctor of veterinary medicine. But my education didn’t end there. Recognizing the need for policies that bridge the gap between human and animal diseases (e.g. rabies, avian influenza, and Ebola to name a few), I went on to work for the US Congress as an American Association of Science fellow. I now work for the World Health Organization and am still studying! I’m excited to announce that I’ll defend my PhD in public policy with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs this December. More good work to do and one day I’ll tell my children to study hard too.

Luciano's Story

Staff Member

I was a first-generation college student and had it not been for support from college access programs (like TRiO Upward Bound) and admissions counselors during high school, I would not have had such a great education. I was just as unaware of how to navigate the application process as my family, thought financial aid was a fairy-tale, and did not know how to prepare in high school to apply to selective institutions. Had it not been for these college access mentors and advising team, I would not have realized that the hard-work I put into high school could translate to scholarships and admission to anywhere but National American University (which I only knew about from the catchy jingle in TV commercials growing up.) Appreciating the doors that they opened for me, I promised myself I would eventually take on a role of some sort that would allow me to be that eye-opening person for other first-generation students.

In college I worked supported first-generation students and coordinated college access programming for non-profits throughout the Twin Cities. I now work in admissions because I love helping others through this journey and have a lot of pride in saying I work for an institution striving to make its education more accessible to students of all socio-economic backgrounds.

It makes me happy to hear students openly discuss this aspect of their educational journeys. I see more and more programming in place to help first-generation students realize that, while their identity inherently consists of overcoming obstacles, it is one to wear with pride and recognize the significance of how far we have come. Being a first-generation graduate is a significant accomplishment and one showcasing the motivation, drive, and potential of everyone in our community!

Erika Sanborne's Story

Graduate Student

In spite of growing up in poverty, mostly raised by my grandparents, I stumbled into admission to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, as a Math major, and I attended for a couple years, went through a period of homelessness, and then enlisted in the military and served four years active duty. I’m grateful for those four years away, because they gave me space to get perspective and find what would be grounding for me. I also took what were called “correspondence courses” back in the early 1990s while I was active duty, which involved writing papers and mailing them to faculty who would mail them back, graded, weeks later.

After my discharge from the United States Coast Guard, I returned¬ to University of Massachusetts Lowell, grateful for the in-state tuition waiver for veterans, and I earned my BLA and my first Master’s Degree there. My next stop was to respond to a call to ministry, and I earned my Master of Divinity degree from Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School, formerly Andover Newton Theological School. I worked as a high school math teacher and carried a heavy course load teaching as Senior Adjunct faculty at UMass Lowell, which together allowed me to pay my tuition as I completed that second Master’s degree.

Today, at the age of 45, I’m fortunate enough to be a PhD student here in the Sociology Department, which is incredible. I’m very grateful for my life and for this current leg of the journey here at the University of Minnesota.

Korrina Griffith's Story

Academic Advisor

I grew up knowing I wanted to go to college thanks to my grandpa. He instilled a lifelong desire to learn in me and he wanted to make sure I had a different life, a better life. From the time I was probably about 5 years old, my goal was to be a student at the University of Minnesota one day. So, I worked. I worked and worked and worked as hard as I could academically to achieve my goal of college. After my grandpa passed away, I started to work even harder because I wanted to be sure to create that better life for myself that he wanted for me. I remember finally getting to the time I was filling out the application and how excited I was. I remember the day that I received my acceptance letter! It was a life-changing moment. I accomplished my goal of being a college graduate and now I am starting my career. Also, I am in grad school now too! Which is definitely thanks to all my wonderful resources at the U since I would have had no idea where to even start if I didn't have people on my team, hoping to see me succeed.

Angelina Dimitrov's Story

Undergrad Student

Growing up, I lived in a single-parent home where I watched my mother work tirelessly day in and day out at her job, trying to make ends meet for my brother and I. Money was always tight, and even as a young elementary school student, my conscience was usually consumed by thoughts of what would happen if my mom couldn’t pay the bills on time.

When I was finally old enough to work my first job, my primary focus became working as much as possible at my part time job so I could help out financially at home. At the time, the thought of going to a 4-year university or attaining a bachelor's degree seemed nearly impossible until I was a sophomore in high school, and I was given the opportunity to take classes for college credit from a local community college. It was then I realized my love for academia, and when the idea of going to college seemed a little more tangible. With the help of my teachers, mom, and step-dad along the way, I became incredibly motivated (and supported) in my pursuit towards a higher education.

As a second-year student now at the University of Minnesota, I am still motivated by my mom and step-dad, day-in and day-out. While the road here has not been easy, I have remained optimistic about my future as a first-generation student because of the additional support I have received from my advisors, professors, friends, etc. I am so incredibly #FirstGenProud, and am excited to finally have a platform to be sharing my #UMNFirst story!

Jessie Behr's Story

Academic Advisor

I think one of the biggest challenges in being a first-generation college student is not knowing what you don't know, and not knowing the questions to ask. This was true for me when I was a college student, and it's sometimes still true now that I'm an academic advisor. It's OK to be vulnerable and lean on others to help you navigate your college experience—especially your advisor; that's what we're here for! Always ask questions, even if your question is, "How do I know which questions to ask?"

Glenda Pereira's Story

Graduate Student

Neither of my parents have a high school diploma, which was common when they were teenagers in the Azores, Portugal during the late 1980's. My dad finished the 4th grade and went to help on the family dairy farm full-time, and my mom did not complete high school as she preferred to work full-time. I moved to the U.S. when I was 10 and have been blessed to pursue an education. I have a B.S., an M.S. and in 2 years I will have a Ph.D. all in Animal Science. While my parents do not have diplomas, they have been fundamental in supporting me along the many many years of higher education. Graduate school is tough, but hearing my mom say "you can do it" are words of encouragement that makes graduate school easier. Without my parents, my mentors, my friends and family I could not be where I am today! I am #FirstGenProud thanks to my mom and my dad.

Sabrina Chu's Story

Undergrad Student

My parents came here with a dream for a better life for them and their kids. I wanted to honor their dream as well as live out my dream to pursue a medical degree to help others in need. Education has played a huge part of my life and my parents have instilled that value into me as a first gen student because I am pushing boundaries and pioneering new territory where they were not able to before.

Geida Cleveland's Story

Staff Member

I'm proud to be a first generation student! My family moved to Minnesota from Mexico when I was 12 and I didn't know a word of English. My uncle brought my cousins and I to the University one day on the way to the state fair and from that moment I said out loud " this is where I'm going to go to school one day". What I didn't know was the challenges that would mean in order to get here. Not only am I now a proud alumni but also a proud member of the U of M staff for over 10 years. Go Gophers!

Ann Meier's Story

Faculty Member

My mom worked as a nurse's aide, and my dad worked as a prison guard -- neither went to college. These were middle class jobs when I was growing up in the 1980s. We lived very frugally, but in a great school district where most families had more resources and the school expected most students to go to college. I followed that expectation and enrolled at the George Washington University on a combo of merit and need-based aid. I worked part-time during high school and throughout my undergraduate career and full time in the summers. I went home once a year, and it got harder every year as I drifted further from my roots. I got my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison -- the first Ph.D. in my extended family. Everyone is proud of me, and I am proud of myself. It is sometimes difficult to truly fit in anywhere, though.

Sammi Boring's Story

Undergrad Student

My mom and dad both always wanted the best for me. When I was in 3rd grade my dad passed away and I always wanted to do something to honor who he was as a person. I chose to go into journalism to pursue television news reporting because my dad was always known for never knowing a stranger and someone that taught me talking all of the time is okay. I'm using my voice to create a career, so that I will always have him with me.

Dila Theodora's Story

Undergrad Student

Growing up, my parents expected a lot from me, academically. They never forced me to go to college, but I saw the immense value of higher education. I wanted to go to college to relieve my parents from the stress of having to provide for the family, and I hope to do that with an education in the US where I can build better connections and learn business from the best. As a firs generation college student, I am unable to use my parents as a reference for questions about college. I had to face the challenges and discover the answers by myself. Even so, my parents are always supportive and I am lucky to meet a lot of people who are willing to help me throughout my college journey. I am always motivated to seek for opportunities to learn and grow. I am #FirstGenProud!

Hamy Huynh's Story

Undergrad Student

As an immigrant, I struggled to assimilate into American society. I spoke fluent Vietnamese at home and didn’t know a word of English before I entered preschool. In elementary school, I was enrolled in the English Language Learners (ELL) program. While most kids in my class had an hour of recess or quiet reading time, I went into a separate classroom and learned English with other students who spoke English as a second language. My separation from the other students made me anxious and spurred me to learn English quickly in order to graduate from the ELL program as soon as possible. With perseverance and determination, I studied hard, graduated the ELL program in the 3rd grade (which was two years earlier than my peers!), and got A’s all the way through middle and high school without any help from my family members.

By the eleventh grade, I signed myself up for the ACT and bought numerous textbooks to prepare for the exam which would determine where I would be able to attend college. By the twelfth grade, I filled out my own FAFSA and sent out my college applications. I was lucky to have supportive teachers and friends who answered questions I had about college. Without their guidance, I probably wouldn’t have been accepted to all three of the schools I applied to! In the end, the choice was obvious for me. I wanted to attend the University of Minnesota to pursue higher education because it was close to home and offered me the most grants and scholarships.

I am now a senior studying Strategic Communications with an emphasis on public relations. During the past few years that I’ve attended the University of Minnesota, I’ve had the opportunity of interning for ServeMinnesota and Fast Horse, served as the President of the Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota, and work as the Media Director for CLAgency (a student-led communications agency on campus) and as the Digital Marketing Assistant for the College of Liberal Arts.

For many people like myself, attending college isn’t easy, but I hope that my story can inspire others to also pursue higher education without the fear that it’s impossible. As a Vietnamese immigrant attending a Big 10 institution, I am not just living proof of a brighter future for my family, I am proof that people can succeed as a first-generation college student. I am #FirstGenProud!

Donavan's Story

UMTC Alumni

I am Diné (Navajo). I am #FirstGenProud. I arrived at the UMN Twin Cities campus with a check for one-hundred dollars and two duffle bags. No winter clothes! Immediately, I experienced loneliness from culture shock, the environment, no more desert, a huge metro area, the diversity of people, the campus size, and an abundance of activities. I still remember that I cried my first night during New Student Weekend. My family was over 1000 miles away and I wondered if I made the right decision to go to college. Starting the fall term was overwhelming. Adjustment was tough with no one to wake me up and my schedule was determined by course offerings. I used my one time drop my first semester. I was not prepared for the rigor of my program. Despite the adversities that impacted my performance, I found community. My friends, my peers, the countless staff, and faculty helped me appreciate what I enjoy doing most, helping people navigate systems. #UMNProud

Claudio Melo's Story

UMTC Staff Member

When I was in college, there was no discussion of "First Gen." Not having words or language to define being first generation meant that your story was hidden away. For example, not being able to afford a textbook for class or a winter coat or struggling to navigate different cultural and social norms and expectations wasn't openly discussed. Times have changed! I'm excited to see students embracing their First Gen identity as a source of strength. Now in my work with students as a career counselor, I applaud everyone's stories and appreciate the opportunity to be part of the UMN community. I am #FirstGen proud!

Natasha Bellefeuille's Story

UMTC Staff Member

My parents had me at a younger age, they came from working class parents who didn't have their high school diploma. When I enrolled in college I remember attending an orientation where all of my peers had their parents with them, mine dropped me off and wished me luck. I ran to a corner and called my parents to ask them to come back and attend this event with me. Stories like that drove me to pursue my education and provide opportunities for others. I am the most educated in my entire family, this title has inspired other generations in my family to look up to me for guidance. I am #FirstGenProud and so proud to support my CLA Students in their education!

Courtney Barrette's Story

UMTC Staff Member

Growing up, I never thought I'd be able to attend college because I knew my parents couldn't afford it. I didn't know anything about student loans or financial aid. And as I got older, I knew that attending college was the only thing I really wanted to do, even though I didn't know anyone else who had really done it. I would figure out a way to do it. And I did - with a lot of student loans later, I graduated from the U with my undergraduate degree and Hamline University with my dual master's degrees. The cost of higher education makes it hard for many to decide to attend college in the first place. I work to fundraise for student scholarships every day at the U and CCAPS so that other students that are in the same situation that I was, don't have to worry about being able to afford their next tuition payment. I am #FirstGenProud.

Fatima Omar's Story

UMTC Staff Member

I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother was the breadwinner who raised four children in Minneapolis. Being the first in my family to attend college has not only motivated me to finish a bachelor’s degree but it also has inspired me to complete my master’s degree.

My advice to any first-generation student is while most will not fully know your personal story and struggles, use that experiences to fuel your self-motivation and determination in accomplishing your goals. Whether you’re pursuing higher education right after high school or coming back as an adult learner, you are still achieving something that no one in your family has done. And remember to celebrate the smaller victories along the journey in your future endeavors!

Michelle Curtis' Story

UMTC Administrator

In my small town MN if you wanted out you either joined the military or went to college. I wasn’t considered college material and had to fight to take college prep classes. I was set to join the military when a friend told me about student loans- being poor I ended up qualifying for a good financial aid package. The only people I knew who went to college were teachers and professionals. I have an MS in Student Personnel and am a career financial aid professional.

President Eric Kaler's Story

Former University President

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.

Carissa Slotterback's Story

UMTC Administrator

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.

Judy's Story

UMTC Faculty Member

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.

Steve Cisneros' Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Laura Wiesner's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Joseph Ballard II's Story

UMTC Staff Member

To be the first in my immediately 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 experience as a first-generation underrepresented student can opened doors for others to find themselves and live their own American Dream. I am very proud 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 to students who identify as first-generation and/or underrepresented. I also hope that through my life’s journey and my work to continue to be a role model, mentor, and a source for inspiration to my family and any student that I encounter who is first-generation. 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

Tai Pham's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Angela Brandt Boutch's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Mara Schneider's Story

UMTC Staff Member

It may have taken me 14 years, 3 different schools and tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, but I did it all on my own! I wanted to show my young children that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, work hard and never give up despite life's obstacles. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Kathy Santamaria Mendez

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: Dept. Chicano/Latino Studies, CLA

I was born in El Salvador to a Honduran-Salvadoran mother and Salvadoran father. After the devastations our country suffered after a civil war and various natural disasters, my parents decided to bring me along in their migration journey to the United States in 2001; I was only 2 years old. I grew up navigating two different worlds. As the oldest child, and as a female, I felt the added pressure of succeeding and being a role model. I grew up witnessing my parents work-hard, and I also witnessed their own struggles in navigating a new world. I knew I wanted to show them that their decisions weren't in vain. I faced an added challenge to my life when I became a teen mom at 15 years old. I decided that I was not going to give up on my dreams. With the continuous support of my parents, I managed to finish high school and my AA-degree at the same time. I entered the U of M as a junior, and graduated with my B.A. in Chicano/Latino Studies when I was 20 years old. It was hard because I had to apply to financial aid outside of FAFSA since I am not a U.S.-Citizen. I had to learn to navigate the higher education system with outside support since my parents did not understand how everything worked. Due to my various struggles as an immigrant, I knew I wanted to work in immigration law; this pushed me to apply to law school. I was accepted to the law schools I applied to, with amazing scholarship offers. I am now a 1L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. I am extremely proud of myself for not only being the first person in my family to obtain a bachelor's degree, but I will also be the first to obtain a doctoral/professional degree. My son has been on this entire journey with me since high school. I know things are rough for both of us at times, but I hope he's able to look back to this journey, and realize how resilient and capable he is. These degrees are not only mine, but they also belong to him. We are currently attending law school in the middle of a pandemic, and I am so proud of him for sticking through it all with me! We are on a mission, and we will not stop until his mom is officially barred in the State of Minnesota.

My advice: Wake up everyday reminding yourself that you deserve to be here. Imposter syndrome is real, and I still struggle with it at times. Take a deep breath, remind yourself of everything you've accomplished, and keep moving forward with your head held high. You deserve everything that is coming your way!!

Chasse Thomas

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: PES, Economics

I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but I did not know how to get there. I did not have the recourses, the background, or the understanding on how to make my dream come true. I grew up in a Latinx community in Casa Grande, AZ where it felt like everyone was accepting of who you were and passionate about their family. Like many families a crossed the country, education is a way to escape financial uncertainty, emotional stress, and to secure a brighter future. When I came to the University of Minnesota, the President’s Emerging Scholars program meant everything to me. In such a challenging major as Economics, the PES community was incredibly helpful, supportive, and abundantly full of people from all different backgrounds but who had the exact same motivation, passion, and dreams as I did. When I was accepted to law school, I could not help but think of the people who I met here and how they have helped and supported me along with my family.

My Advice: Never doubt what you can do. You became the first in your family to make it to college; You control your future. You made it to one of the best educational institutions in the nation, there is nothing that you cannot do. I know it will be difficult sometimes to always feel this way, so make sure to put it in your phone, or on the wall to remind yourself of what you can accomplish

Katie Peterson

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: College of Biological Sciences (CBS), School of Public Health (SPH)

I’ve never had a traditional family. Growing up, my parents were distant, and my paternal grandmother became my legal guardian at a young age. She worked multiple jobs tirelessly, seven days a week, just to put a roof over my head and food in my mouth. She was still raising my uncle when she took me under her wings and he became my best friend. I remember going on dates with him, trick-or-treating, swimming in my kiddie pool, and running to him after a nightmare. When I was six and he was eighteen, he lost his life. From that moment forward I made it my utmost goal to live for him, in his honor. At the time of his passing, he was making plans to attend the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. He didn’t get to attend, but I did. I pushed myself to unfathomable heights, and in 2012 I became a first-generation college student. My uncle was and is my motivation. In 2016 I beat the odds once more when I began my studies to earn my MPH at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. I am currently a first-generation college graduate holding both BS and MPH degrees - I can only imagine the pride my uncle would feel.

My advice: You know yourself better than anyone else; if you believe you can do it, you can.

Brandon Coombes

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: Division of Biostatistics

I am a first gen student. My story is marked by cluelessness, indecisiveness, and privilege. I’m going to be brutally honest, I got to my position where I am now because as a white man, there was no opposition to my success. In fact, everyone throughout my education pushed and ensured my success.

Throughout undergrad I switched majors A LOT and racked up a lot of debt (I didn’t even try applying for external scholarships). I went to grad school because my mentor suggested I would be good there. In grad school, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t choose to work in statistical genetics. My advisor actually asked me and I said sure. Grad school ended up being the hardest time of my life because I struggled to find meaning in the work and thus motivation for the work. After grad school, I took a post-doc at Mayo Clinic because someone offered me the position without even interviewing me (they knew my advisor).

I don’t want this story to be a downer. I say all this because over the last two years, I have become highly active in my work (after two lackluster years in my postdoc). I am faculty at Mayo Clinic working on the genetics of psychiatric disorders and addictions. I’m co-leading a new opioid Biobank there and have so much passion for my work. Why did something click? A fantastic, caring mentor, Joanna Biernacka at Mayo, and a serious life change that made me find myself.

Importantly though, over the last two years, I have heard from other voices. I have heard the voices of BIPOC and female colleagues that have a very different kind of struggle in their story. One where they had to fight against the norms of academia. It is with these stories that I have shifted to try to actively be a part of the change in my field as we tear down norms and welcome new people and new ideas. I also hope that in the future I can be the type of nurturing and welcoming mentor that actively supports and guides my staff, post-docs, and students.

My advice: Seek out good mentors! Listen to stories and become engaged.

Adonai's Story

Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: CEHD, First Gen Student

My name is Adonai, I am the son of two Eritrean immigrants, a first generation American and college student as well. I grew up in the city of Columbia Heights, Minnesota with one younger sister and two hard working parents. My parents did not have the chance to attend college because they were always working to provide for us. They had always put an emphasis on getting a good education and being able to live comfortably one day without having to work as hard as them. Growing up I knew getting that college degree was the one thing that could make them feel as though their sacrifices over the years was worth it. With the hours and hours of work that they put in, school was essentially my job, and it was the least that I could do for them. This resonates with a lot of first generation college students when I say that the degree is for them more than it is for me. That diploma is more than just a piece of paper that I need to qualify for some job, but instead is a symbol of hard work and sacrifice over the last few decades. With being a first generation college student comes some challenges. You don’t necessarily have someone who has gone through the college experience that can give you tips about the applications process, classes to sign up for, or even how to tackle college financially. I was heavily reliant on my high school’s guidance counselor, who was helpful to a degree, but had hundreds of other students to help out. I made it my goal to be able to help and become a resource, be a good role model for my younger sister and cousins. I am also serving this year as President of First Gen Students here at the University of Minnesota because I want to really be able to make a difference in the lives of those around me.

My advice: Always ask questions and don’t let your current obstacles stop you from trying!

Brenda's Story

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: CLA, PES, MCAE, Departments of Sociology and Political Science

Like many of these incredible scholars, I too am a #FirstGenProud UMN alum. I remember watching TV as a kid and getting filled with hopes and dreams that were different from my reality. These child actors had TV parents with flexible cool jobs, were homeowners, experienced expensive family vacations, and so forth. To put it simply, the characters on some of these shows had something I didn’t have- wealth. My parents are blue collar, mixed status immigrants from Mexico. When I asked my mom why we weren’t wealthy or had to consider their immigration status all the time, she would bluntly respond “mija, we are poor immigrants. However, we are smart, hardworking, and have survival skills that your TV characters don’t have. You especially. It’s in your blood. ” As a young Sociologist & Political Scientist in the making, although my heart was warmed, I knew something was not right. How come my parents worked twice as hard but get half as much? That spark of social injustice as a young child is what made me work twice as hard as my peers. I KNEW I had to go to college. It was my gateway to a “new reality.” Therefore, I filled my time with school work and serving the community. When I started college, that did not change. I was a full time student, usually always had two jobs, volunteered in my community, and was the first person in my family to go to college. Like many first gen students, my idea of college came from TV and movies. However, movies and TV didn’t tell us how hard it is to be a first generation (Mexican American woman for myself) and a first gen college student from a lower socio economic status. They didn’t tell us about the extra challenges we had to consider. As such, I learned how our systems, history, and social injustice impacts our community members, which is what led to my majors in Sociology and Political Science. Like the late US Senator Wellstone said, “we ALL do better, when we ALL do better.” So I went to college to do better for myself, my family, and our community.

Although managing my responsibilities and identities were tough, I am thankful I had so many support systems as a student. Shout out to MCAE, PES, College Possible, Page Education Foundation, McNair Scholars, and my other mentors and advisors that had my back. They saw my potential and pushed me to get to where I am today. When I had losses, they took my “L’s” into a lesson. I am appreciative of their continued support, even though I am no longer a student. Most importantly, my mom was right. We are smart, we are hardworking, and we are resilient. I am loudly proud to be my parents daughter. We are constantly breaking barriers. We inspire the younger generations with our stories. We should all be proud of how far we have come, and we are excited for what is to come. Keep doing you. I am #FirstGenProud.

My advice: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Seek help for your mental health, financial supports, career advice, or anything you are struggling with. You are not alone. Also, don't be afraid to try something new. I know you are challenged enough, but you will find little growth in your comfort zone. Make a plan for your dreams, even if it's a rough draft. Please know you are seen and are valued.

Lizzie's Story

Graduate Student

My UMN Community:CEHD (Kinesiology BS), Doctor of Physical Therapy

Growing up, I knew that going to college was something that I was destined for. I had a passion at a young age to become a physical therapist and I was bound and determined to achieve that dream. Being the first in my family to go to college was tough at times. I had to advocate for myself and find resources from teachers, counselors, peers, etc. in order to do well in high school, apply to colleges, figure out forms like the FAFSA, and move to a big new city. Luckily, I also had the overwhelming support of my parents throughout the process which really made it possible for me to get to where I am today. Even if they couldn't give me the specific insights on what to do to apply and get there, having them there for me was everything. Throughout my journey I was able to learn a lot about myself and how to advocate for myself. The most important part for me is seeing that I can achieve my goals. I can go to college, graduate from college, and get accepted into my dream physical therapy school. The hard work paying off is so empowering and that's why I am #FirstGenProud!

My advice: The road is hard sometimes, but don't give up!

Jason's Story

Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: CFANS, OTE

My parents immigrated to the US before I was born but they came here with the hope of giving their children a better life. Although they wanted an education that was never an option for them. Being from rural Mexico they had to drop their studies to support their family. Growing up life was difficult for my family and we faced many obstacles along the way. My parents never gave up hope and continued to instill in me a drive to pursue my dreams. I have always been curious and as a young boy, I always wanted to be a scientist. As a result of this, I have always wanted to go to college, and in high school, I became a PSEO student. After that, it seemed like my parents dreams for their children we coming true. I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school and also the first in my family to go to college. My parents and I are incredibly proud of what I have achieved so far but I continue to push myself to go further. I am currently an undergraduate student majoring in Food Science but I hope to continue my education and pursue a Ph.D. in Food Science. Every day I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given and continue to be a proud gopher.

My advice for other first-gen students is to ask for help when you need it. As first-gen students, we are navigating a world without any experience or advice from our family. It is very easy to feel like you are alone or that you need to deal with everything by yourself, but it shouldn’t be that way. The university is here to help you! You just need to ask for it. I know when I started my college experience, I felt like I was alone but I soon discovered that there were so many students in similar situations. Reach out to organizations that are specific to you and reach out to those that aren’t. College is about learning, not just about academics but also about yourself, others, and the world around us.

Manny's Story

Graduate Student

My family and I came to the USA when I was just 3 years old. Like any immigrant family, we had many obstacles that came our way. Although at times we didn't have the most grandeur life, my parents still did the best they could to provide for me and my siblings. It was with great honor that I, along with my older sister, were the first ones to go to college out of my whole family. With not only getting my B.S., but taking the step further and obtaining a masters and now in pursuit of a PhD. My greatest honor is knowing that me pursuing my current degree at the U brings my parents so much joy and pride. Tackling all obstacles and working my way towards doing what I love doing most, creating a positive change for the world.

My advice for other first-gen students: At times it will feel overwhelming because you'll put so much pressure on yourself to do so much in order to make your loved ones proud. Remember to take a step back from time to time and make sure that what you are doing is what is best for you and truly makes you happy. It will be hard for parents and others who never had the opportunity to pursue college degrees to see your vision and path, but do not let that deter you from doing what makes you happy.

Carissa's Story

Staff Member

My dad was a printer and my mom worked part-time in a variety of customer service jobs. They worked hard and instilled the value to do the best I could at anything I tried. I remember my dad saying that if getting a "C" was the best grade I could get he'd be happy, as long as it was my very best. I was always a curious kid and I spent A LOT of time at the library researching everything I could think of (pre-Internet). My parents couldn't pay for college for me so I remember spending a lot of time reading books about college financial aid, but then I learned about the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. This program meant that I could get nearly half of my college experience for free. This opportunity made college a reality for me and gave me the push I needed to not only go to undergrad (here at the U), but eventually onto graduate school where I became a librarian and I could get paid to be curious.

My other for other first-gen students: Find a mentor and get active. There are so many things to learn about how college works (especially outside of the classroom). While I was book smart, I didn't understand how to network, meet people, get involved, or have other "college experiences." Join a club, talk to your advisor, go to office hours. Learn from others. There are so many cool opportunities in college- take advantage of them. Contact me in Walter Library. I'm always happy to help!

Olivia's Story

Undergrad Student

Neither of my parents graduated college and they are both extremely proud to have a daughter who is on a successful path to graduating college so whenever I feel especially stressed about college, I think about how proud they are and how excited they will be when I graduate as motivation to keep going!

My advice to other first-gen students: Don't be afraid to ask your advisors or professors for advice on navigating college! It is difficult when you do not have siblings or parents to offer guidance, and professors and advisors only want to see you succeed.

Raphael's Story

Graduate Student

Dreams are indeed the seedlings of reality. Growing up in a little village in Ghana, I always felt there was more to life than I was experiencing. In discussing my dreams of attending college with my family, friends and relatives, the advise I often get is, "Raphael, be content with what you have." So I took the matter into my own hands and sought every possible help I could get; first to finish my Bachelor of Science program and then to begin master's program.

Here I am today in this great University, studying engineering under world renowned professors and when I look back to when the whole idea of attending college was first conceived, I must admit coming this far was beyond my most sanguine expectation.

Therefore, your vision of the future is what you will one day realize for you will never have felt the desire unless you were capable of bring it to past.

Bao Moua's Story

Staff Member

I am proud to be the oldest of nine kids born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota to parents who were refugees from Laos. I am a proud Hmong American daughter and first to graduate from college in my family. I am thankful and appreciate the incredible support my family provided while I was on my journey through college which led me to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Child Psychology. I am proud to be working in a research lab at the Institute of Child Development. I am #FIRSTGENPROUD.

Lilli Ambort's Story

Undergrad Student

Since I was little, my parents have always told me that I needed to go to college. I watched my mom struggle when getting her associates degree in her mid-20's with twins at home and working two restaurant jobs. My dad has always done something with the trades. While my twin sister and I will be the first to graduate from four-year institutions and have the opportunity to go on to graduate school, I want to set an example for my little sister and little brother who will one day have to make this choice for themselves too.

Being a first generation college student has it's challenges, and I didn't realize that until I arrived at UMN. If you can believe it, I didn't even visit campus before orientation long after I had enrolled! Navigating FAFSA, essays, letters of recommendation, and scholarship applications came with a learning curve, and that didn't even include getting adjusted to an experience that no one else in my family could give me insight into. Overall though, I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to be here and have the network of other first generation students that have done the same before me.

Jill's Story

Staff Member

The term "first-generation college student" didn't exist (or at least wasn't commonly used) when I set off for college back in the mid-1980’s, but I definitely was one. My dad, a farmer, and my mom, a farmer's wife, were humble and hardworking high school graduates who wanted the best for their kids, even if it meant leaving the farm and rural Minnesota for college. And, with 11 kids, it often meant leaving the farm.

While they didn’t really know what my college world would look like, they made sure that I would get there, if that’s what I wanted. And by ‘getting there’ I mean that literally. They would drive four hours to and from my college town whenever I needed them to those first couple of years, before I had one of my many (lovingly called) ‘junker’ cars, which they also helped me procure. These things - the rides, the vehicles, the $20 bills stuck in my hand as I headed out the door - these were their way of helping me through the college experience in a way that they could and knew how. And college, well, it definitely was a different world for me. That first year, I was way out of my comfort zone. I didn't understand what was expected of me or how things worked. I often felt a little adrift, and so I identify with feeling like you don't belong and with the frustration and challenges of navigating a system you didn't even know existed. It was an often daunting and overwhelming experience.

Fast forward a few decades, I'm now a proud degree holder of both a BA and MS, and an even prouder 20-year plus higher education professional. Part of the passion I bring to my work and part of my desire to help students is due to my experience as a first-gen college student - one who sometimes wanted more support than I received, but also one who survived that experience by the grace and hospitality of so many amazing people - my family, the college staff and faculty, my friends, and even family members of friends - an entire village of fine folks who went out of their way, and took me under their wings, so that I might fly someday. In doing so, they gave me the chance to succeed so that I might return their favors, and pass on the grace and hospitality I experienced from them to others, once I had the chance. Being a first-gen student wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it. I'm honored to be a member of the #FirstGenProud crowd.

Cynthia Salazar's Story

Undergrad Student

I am the first born US citizen/Chicana/Mexican American in my family to attend a University/College. I am doing the Bachelor of Independent Study (BIS) and my three subjects I’m focusing on is writing, political science and Chicano studies. I would like to go to law school and eventually become an immigration attorney. I am so proud to be a first generation student at the U of M.

Hafsa's Story

Undergrad Student

As a person who identifies with several minority groups, I’ve always been constantly made aware of my First Generation American background. In the sixth grade, I was taught about a concept known as “survival of the fittest,” and only then was I finally able to pinpoint the way I coped through it all...overpowering the root causes and taking charge of its effects, only then would I benefit, no matter the circumstance.

Being a First Gen college student, for me, was a blow that I didn’t quite expect. Since the role of student is engraved in a child at the tender age of five (or even below for some), I’ve never quite correctly forecasted the storms ahead.

I spent the first year and half of highschool in my parent’s home country of Somalia. Carrying high expectations of my finally finding a niche, I walked in there with shoulders a little too high. Local youth were quick to point out my differences, and the little too obvious side glances of adults weren’t exactly welcoming either. Apparently, we (two of my siblings accompanied me) even walked different and it was a dead giveaway that we were from the U.S. Who knew, right?

As time passed, people slowly started seeing us less as foreigners and more as commoners. The little get togethers I had at my friends’ houses, my grandma’s captivating stories, the endless amount of outdoor activities, and watching/ participating in the rituals soon won us both over: me, them; and the country, me.

With very limited Somali speaking skills and about ten Arabic words somewhere in the maze of my head, I was enrolled in a local high school that used the two as what the majority of coursework was offered in. So when I came back to Minnesota at the end of highschool, sophomore year, my peers have already been selected for a college readiness program. With very limited resources and guidance on hand, I applied and went to Augsburg University.

After staying for SOAR (their overnight welcome/ registration days), I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford such a school and only two days before the first day of school, I signed up for MCTC. Unable to go forth with the five+ year plan my advisor had mapped out for me, I soon found myself at Metro State University. And although Metro gave me warmer welcome, the nagging “what if” thoughts led me to apply to UMTC just two days before their spring deadline.

Today, although I still struggle, try to take everything one day at a time. While that’s easier said than done, and at the very least cliche, the more one strives towards it, the more achieving it becomes a reality. And friends, never undermine the power of faking it, for your brain knows no difference between it and making it.

To be proud of my beginnings, however, was something that was always instilled in me in order for me to either appreciate my fruitious results or take note of my unfortunate shortcomings. The belief that everyone carries their own strength is one of the driving factors of life, it’s just that some are dormant, eagerly waiting awakening.

My parents named me Lioness, and that served as a fortitude in my forever being #FirstGenProud.

Lana's Story

Undergrad Student

Håfa ådai! Nå'ån-hu si Alanalyn Pinaula-Toves and I am a first gen from the island of Guam.

Both my parents and I grew up with dichotomous identities; being both Charmorros and military dependents.These are two deeply-rooted identities in which the only two paths commonly taken are either raising a family or enlisting in the military. Even so, attending college had been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember. I was never deterred by the fact that I didn’t know anyone who had already gone down the same path and I was setting out to take. In fact, “First Gen” wasn’t a term I had even heard of up until a couple of months ago. All I ever knew was that I had my mind set on obtaining a higher education and eventually becoming a doctor. It wasn’t going to just be a dream of mine. I was determined to make it my reality.

Every generation of my family made sacrifices that eventually led to my ability to be here. My parents have made innumerous sacrifices that have helped me get to where I am now, in the hopes of giving me opportunities they could have only dreamed of. Being a first gen is a constant reminder that being here is an honor and privilege for me, my family, and my island. It is a reminder to never forget where I come from, no matter where I am headed. Si yu'os ma'åse, Mom & Dad. I couldn’t have gotten this far without you. Hu guaiya hao.

Taylor Utterberg's Story

Staff Member

I had humble beginnings growing up in a blue collar union family on the Iron Range with not much of a head start financially. My grandfather was a first-generation American miner from Italy and my grandmother was first-generation American homemaker from Finland. My sister and I may be third-generation Americans, but we were both first-generation university students; she graduated from UMD while I matriculated at the 'U.' I moved to Minneapolis in 2013, played sax in the marching band where I met my husband, and performed research during my four years in the Twin Cities. I graduated with my BA in 2017 thanks to the support from my family and my husband. After that, I also received a post-baccalaureate certificate in 2018 from the School of Nursing. I now work full time on campus since 2017 and I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this university and be a Golden Gopher everyday, and it's all thanks to my parents for encouraging me to get my degree. Both my parents are proud to be Gophers, even if they don't have bachelors degrees. Row the Boat, Ski-U-Mah, and Go Gophers!

Marleny's Story

Graduate Student

When I told my grandpa that I had gotten into graduate school and would be the first member of our entire extended family to obtain a Master's degree, he hugged me and said he was proud of me. Every day I attend school, I think about the sacrifice my parents made by coming to the United States. I can't wait to be the first.

Tom Anderson's Story

Senior Citizen Education Program Participant

Being a first gen student is not unusual for my generation, the Baby Boomers. Our parents were born before World War II and the changes it made to the American education system. Still, to think that I am the first male on either side of my family to earn a Bachelors degree is humbling. And to think that, at my age, I am back on campus earning a second BA with eyes toward grad school is probably something my ancestors would have a hard time comprehending. Yet, here I am an undergrad again this time at the University of Minnesota.

Taking the non-traditional route has been my forte. Sure, I went to college right after high school but left after two years to pursue a career. One job led to another, then I got married and had a family and the next thing I knew I was having a mid-career crisis: I had gotten about as far as I would without a degree. It was then I went back to college and earned my BA at age forty-three.

Coming back to college as a participant in the Senior Citizen Education Program seemed natural. For me, learning has no age limit.

Ellen Harth's Story

Undergrad Student

I am a sophomore at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, double majoring in Animal Science - Dairy Production and Agricultural Communication and Marketing. I grew up on my family’s owned and operated dairy farm near Hinckley, Minnesota. I quickly learned that coming back to the farm after graduation was not an option and had to seek out a degree instead. I am the first person from my family to attend college and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I joined Beta of Clovia Sorority, Block and Bridle, and Gopher Dairy Club. I have studied abroad in Belize for Coral Reef Management and hope to travel to other countries again. These opportunities would not have been possible without coming to the University of Minnesota. I could not be more proud to be a first generation college student.

Jinhee Cha's Story

Graduate Student

My mother and father never had a formal education, nevertheless they always wanted one. Growing up in rural Korea, my mother and father couldn’t afford an education because they were preoccupied with providing for their own families. They did not want that for me nor my siblings and so, they moved the U.S for a better future for us. Recognizing the importance of education, they spent countless nights with me and my sibling, double checking our homework assignments and practicing their English. With their help, I was able to graduate high school, attend college and complete my master’s program. Today I’m a first-generation PhD student studying Epidemiology in one of the best public health University’s in the United States. Their dreams of a better future for us paid off.

Karen Chen's Story

UMTC Student

For me to be #FirstGenProud at the University of Minnesota means being driven to make a change for the future generations.

Due to years of translating in the healthcare field, I am planning to attend graduate school for healthcare administration & policy to help further reduce language barriers and create policies to obtain better healthcare for immigrants and refugees.

Bethany Waldron's Story

UMTC Alumni

I didn't even KNOW I could go to college until 11th grade! It was a rocky start AND middle. Thanks to TRIO, the Student Parent Help Center, Disability Resources, and some amazing instructors and advisors who really cared at age 45, I graduated with my B.A. in Cultural Studies in 2014 ON THE DEAN'S list. It took me 28 years, five colleges (universities/for profits/& community colleges), and three amazing children, but I persevered. Now I am finishing my last year of GRAD SCHOOL at the U of M-Twin Cities and will graduate with my Master's in Multicultural College Teaching & Learning in May of 2019! My advice: Speak up, LISTEN, ask questions, fact check, see your advisor, get involved, your instructors are PEOPLE...be honest with them. Your tuition is paying for all of this so USE IT! You will NOT regret it. You can do it! #FirstGenProud!

Shanique Wright's Story

UMTC Student

I grew up in Jamaica with my father and seven other siblings. My mother had migrated to the Cayman Islands to work as a domestic helper since I was six leaving our father to raise us. My father worked as a higgler and a farmer to ensure that we had the resources to go to school. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college or University. My mother was not able to attend high school due to the financial instability of her parents while my father was only able to complete secondary level education. My family live in the rural parts of the country with limited access to wifi, running water and any reliable source of transportation. After May 2019 I will be the youngest and the only child in my family to have successfully completed two bachelor degrees at a four year University. It was a difficult decision to leave my family to pursue higher education in the United States however it was worth the sacrifices that were made by my parents and family. I am grateful for the resources provided by the International Student Scholar Services, Culture Corps and the Athletic Department that continues to help other #firstgeneration improve their career development. Through these organizations I have been able to network with local organizations, meet individuals who share a similar passion for criminal justice and embark on new adventures through internship opportunities and university sponsored programs.

Tracy Lee's Story

UMTC Student

I am the youngest of six, and a daughter of two refugees whom did not have the opportunity to pursue any type of education in their homeland, Thailand, and when they immigrated to the United States, because of the Secret War. My parents have been in the U.S. since the 1980s but still speaks broken English. My five older siblings did not continue to pursue higher education. I am the first to go to a 4-year institution college in my family and am #FirstGenProud. Although this journey gets difficult as I face challenges and questions which I cannot turn to my family for advice or help, I am grateful for all the peers, mentors, colleagues and staffs that continue to push me to be a better me.

If you are a first gen student, don’t be afraid to fail and start over on whichever path you choose to pursue. Only then can you grow. Despite how you choose to pave this path of yours, know your parents and everyone around you will always be proud of you!

Andy Tran's Story

UMTC Student

Being a first-generation student over the past few years of going to college has been the most difficult for me especially when it comes to speaking and expressing my opinions in the classroom. Being a first generation sure has its benefits, but it also means carrying a whole bunch of responsibilities and having to find and discover the resources that will help you succeed when it comes to your academics. Even to this day, I find it struggling to speak up and to find the right resources, but I’m glad that I have supporters and those who understands my struggles.

Monica Correale's Story

UMTC Doctoral Student and TRIO Instructor

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.

Fernando Rodriguez's Story

UMTC Grad Student and Staff Member

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.

Nancy Vang's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Miriam Wood Alameda's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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!

Kirsten Collins' Story

UMTC Staff Member

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 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 be fill 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.

Korina Barry's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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).

Katie's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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

Courtney Lang's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Brandon Koch

Faculty Member

My UMN Community: Division of Biostatistics

As a first-generation college student with parents and an older sibling who never even enrolled in college, flying halfway across the country to start a PhD program in Minnesota felt like a gamble. Whenever I tried to talk about graduate school with my family, I was met with puzzling looks and found it difficult to explain to them why I was going to be in school for at least another five years even though I had just graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. Even after lengthy discussions, most of my family thought I was going to be treating patients and performing surgeries after graduate school (since I would someday be “Dr. Koch”), despite the fact I was going to study biostatistics.

After starting the PhD program at Minnesota, I was met with some of the most difficult challenges of my life. Coursework was much more demanding than in undergraduate school, and I had never lived in a city or anywhere farther than a short drive away from home. Fortunately, many people at Minnesota (such as my advisors, professors, and other students in the program) helped me overcome these obstacles, and after five years, I graduated with my PhD.

After graduation, I returned to my undergraduate institution - the University of Nevada, Reno - as a faculty member (my dream job). It was a surreal experience to teach a course in the same exact classroom I had once sat in as a student. Even though there were many times I questioned the path I was on while going through school, I’m happy I persisted and would do it all over again to get to where I am today.

My advice: Find supportive mentors and advisors, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

KorbyQuan Reed

U of M Alumni

My UMN Community: CEHD, CSPP

The more I interact with college and graduate students, the older I get, the closer I get to raising children of my own - the more I realize just how important it is to recognize, engage with, and uplift first-generation students because in a lot of ways they are historically lacking those three things! As a first generation student myself, undergrad in Indiana and then grad at UMN, it was tough to connect fully and realize the potential I had, until I began working with students directly. I often doubted my ability, which I learned later was imposter syndrome, I grappled with identity, which I learned later was because my upbringing lacked the proper tools to explore, and this all kept me from thriving personally and academically.

A year into my graduate program I joined the CEHD Career Services team as an intern career counselor and that was when I began to realize the world was bigger around me. In my head, the path ahead, once singular and often times narrow, turned into a series of branches and twists, some loops of course, but I knew that this opportunity was what I needed to thrive. I used that platform to help others discover their potential, question their trained narratives, and look beyond what seemed impossible before - many of those students being first-generation and underserved. Who am I if not a conduit of others getting to where they need to be, just as amazing leaders like Jeannie Stumne, Cassie Schiller, Juan Telles, Jamie Schumann, Bai Vue, and Ellen Sunshine (+ so many more!) were conduits to my growth. I'm proud to be first-generation and I'm proud of those who are still trying, still fighting, and still rising - thriving looks good on you!

Advice: Seek out perspectives as much as possible. It's okay to ask the most qualified person in the room for advice but know that there is a room full of people who have lived and survived very similar situations.

Ashley Mitchell

Staff Member

My UMN Community: School of Public Health

My mother was a teen when I was born and instilled in me an open-minded love for learning; it felt implied that I would attend college. I transferred a year and a half into my undergraduate degree which was a hard, right decision. Through this, I learned to trust myself and to ask for help. I was fortunate to build a myriad of mentorship relationships and chose work/internship experiences that allowed me to refine and live my values. I ended up completing my MPH here at the U. I learned to advocate for myself and relied on the resilience I already knew I had to overcome some challenging life circumstances along the way. I deepened a practice of gratitude that brought unique opportunities and focused on investing in relationships with folx I consider[ed] allies. I loved it so much that I'm now proud to be staff! Press on, Gophers!

Advice: Persist! You've broken through a generational ceiling already. Trust and advocate for yourself. Live your values, invest in your allies, and remember that everyone is learning and unlearning alongside you.

Alex's Story

Undergrad Student

My UMN Community: Psychology and Native American and Indigenous Studies

I am the first one in my family to go to college. My father went into the army straight out of high school and my mom never went to college. Eventually my mom did some college but never got a 4 year degree. When I was growing up they both always encouraged me and my sister to do whatever we set our hearts to and told us we could do anything. In second grade when discussing the standard "what do you want to be when you grow up" question we were told to look into how to get there, this included the kind of college we needed. This was the first time I learned about UMM and knew that I would end up continuing my education here. I am now in my 4th year and couldnt be prouder of myself. I pushed through struggles and the uncomfort of new situations and I am looking into graduate programs for counseling. I pushed myself with the support of my family to make it here and I know that they are just as proud of me as I am. I know that when my little sister goes to college she'll know that I have been through the challenges and am there to help her. I also know that my decision has made it so my kids and grandkids one day will know they can do it too.I am #firstgenproud

My advice: Talk to professors and get involved. It gets hard and sometimes it feels lonely when your family may not understand the feelings or struggles you face, but a lot of professors are first generation too. They have been there and can help you through it. Also get involved programs like Summit Scholars and McNair are great places for support from both staff and peers. You arent alone and you shouldnt have to feel like it.

Darren's Story

Staff Member

My UMN Community: Career & Professional Development Center, School of Public Health

Throughout my secondary education, the idea of going to college was never mentioned, encouraged, or even thought of. Having two parents who were non-college educated, as well as two older siblings who were also, I had no role model to turn to. However, it was in my grandfather's last few days who encouraged me to be the best I can be, achieve success through challenge, and always serve others. It was this message that motivated me to visit (and enroll last minute) to the University of Minnesota - Duluth as an undergraduate major in Psychology. Since then, I have gone on to obtain a master's degree in higher education administration and am in a career that I love; helping others career dreams become reality.

My advice: Be your own advocate and never let anything stand in your way of achieving your dreams!

Lindsey's Story

Faculty Member

My UMN Community: Family Social Science

For most of my K-12 education, I attended a small rural school with multi-grade classrooms. There were five students in my 8th grade class. I have vivid memories of older students teaching me math and of me helping younger students learn to read. This type of learning, as I understand now, can be incredibly powerful. Most of my classmates were first-generation students and many went on to advanced degrees, myself included. Challenges notwithstanding, going to college always seemed attainable because of my parents. Both are lifelong learners who instilled in me a love of people and books. I still tease my dad about stopping to read every sign in a museum. I feel proud and grateful to have been raised by them.

My advice: Tell yourself over and over again that you belong here – you are not an imposter! Find a mentor who was also first gen – someone who understands the feeling of not knowing what you don’t know.

Melissa's Story

Staff Member

My UMN Community: Orientation & Transition Experiences

I am proud to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. Educational pursuits have always been encouraged by my parents, though neither obtained a degree. Even though they did not always understand the ins and outs of college life, their emotional support never wavered. There were times in my college career that I felt lost or like I was the only person who didn't know what was going on. It was important for me to ask questions and find people who were willing to assist me in understanding the world of higher education. I am thankful I had many great faculty and staff members who were willing to fill this role. Being able to assist others in navigating life in college is one of the big reasons I choose to work in higher education.

Rio's Story

Staff Member

My UMN Community: Department of Psychology

My mother and I came to the United States from Indonesia when I was two years old. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to go to college. Growing up, my mother stressed the importance of education and her dreams to see me graduate from high school and college. My mother did everything she could to support me in school. Despite working full time and taking English classes, she found time to create multiplication tables, practice my spelling words, or read me a book. When my mother was no longer able to support my educational work, I found teachers and counselors who could. My high school counselor was especially helpful as she helped my mother and I navigate the college application process and finds ways to finance college to make it a possibility. Financing college was a challenge, but I took all the AP and College in the School (CIS) courses in high school I could take to help mitigate some of cost. Through the help and support of my mother, teachers, and counselors, I was able to graduate high school and attend college at the University of St. Thomas.

Even in college, I found countless educators and individuals who helped me. I was part of a mentorship program my first year that really helped set me up towards a path for success. My career counselor was instrumental in guiding me through the working world at every stage: resumes, job fairs, internships, graduate school planning, and my goals after graduation. Several professors mentored and expanded my horizon when it came to my education. I even had the opportunity to do research under one of them. A whole community of educators supported me, and I graduated magna cum laude in 2019 with a BA in Psychology and a minor in American Studies and a plethora of skills and experiences.

I'm proud and grateful to have graduated from college and made my mother's dreams come true. She worked and sacrificed a lot to ensure I could live a better life than hers, and I do my best every day to honor her sacrifices. I am also proud to be able to work for the Minnesota Center Twin and Family Research (MCTFR) and make a difference in the world with the research we do. I'm looking to continue my education in the future by applying to MSW programs for Social Work.

My advice: Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are countless educators and resources available to help you succeed. Find that individual or community who will support you and your endeavors.

Kayla's Story

Undergrad Student

I am the first person in my family to ever go to college. I am originally from Texas and I am now attending an institution on the other side of the country away from anyone I know. It can be really scary at times, but my family couldn’t be more proud. Growing up with divorced parents was difficult added even more pressure to succeed, but I believe the difficult times only made me stronger. I was able to push myself in ways I couldn’t even begin to imagine and I got myself into my dream school.

My advice for other first-gen students: I know it can be scary, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can seem like you’re all alone, but there are so many people at the U who are here to help you no matter what it is. There are resources, friends, professors, and your advisors. If you need help, ask for it.

Amy's Story

Staff Member

My mom graduated salutatorian from her rural school of 18 in northern MN. I remember her telling me the males in her class were encouraged to go on to 4 year colleges, and the females were told to go to school to be secretaries or not at all. Seeing the inequity in that, I knew that I wanted to go to college, even though no one in either side of my extended family had gone. As a high school student, I started my college career as a post secondary student, even though I was similarly discouraged from doing even by my guidance counselor. Then, when I applied for college, I had no idea what I was doing! I applied at the least expensive colleges I could find that still allowed me to move away from home and landed at St. Cloud State. I fortunately found may way into their honors program which landed me in smaller classes with a small cohort of students; I think this helped me better connect with peers and faculty in a way I wouldn't have at a large university. I remember feeling like so many others knew how to do college in a way that I just didn't. This was even more acute when I found my way into graduate school on the East Coast. When I continued onto graduate school, they really couldn't understand why I would still want to go to school and more, just how challenging my school was. My family was proud of what I was doing, but at the same time, didn't understand the challenges I was facing. It was an isolating experience—I didn't feel like I fit in at home, but I also didn't feel like I quite fit in fully with the academic life I was fully immersed in. I almost didn't return to graduate school between my first and second year, but I'm so glad I did! After I graduated, I returned to MN and was hired at the U. Working for a great mentor changed so much for me! It was the first time I felt like my background was an asset and I was exactly where I belonged. It wasn't until working at the U, that I realized knowing how to navigate applying to and attending college is, in and of itself, a privilege and one that hasn't always been recognized. I've continued on to receive a second Masters degree from the U and am a proud alumna and staff member. I also work to encourage and help those who don't feel like they belong to navigate going to college. #firstgenproud

My advice for first gen students is to find people you trust who have gone to college recently who can speak to the process of navigating through it successfully. And don't be afraid to advocate for yourself while you're here. Ask questions--in your classes, of your adviser, in your department, in the financial aid office, at OneStop. You may not always get all of the answers you're hoping for, but it's worth asking and you deserve answers because you belong here, too!

Ellen's Story

Undergrad Student

Being a first generation college student has been very meaningful and allowed me to experience more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. Deciding to come to the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities was an easy decision. Since attending the Gopher Dairy Camp in 2012, UMTC has called my name through the campus atmosphere, agriculture connections, and breathtaking views. Coming to campus was challenging at first because I was so used to living in rural area, right up the road from my family’s dairy farm. However, with the support of my parents, friends, and the Land Grant Legacy Scholars Program, UMTC quickly became my home away from home. Today, I am a junior studying Agricultural Communication and Marketing and Animal Science with an emphasis in Dairy Production. I am extremely involved on campus in organizations such as Beta of Clovia Sorority, Block and Bridle, Colleges Against Cancer, Gopher Crops and Soils Club, and Gopher Dairy Club. I have had the opportunity to study abroad in Belize for Coral Reef Management and will be studying in Argentina for Agricultural Production and Marketing. My heart has become deeply rooted in the University of Minnesota’s culture.

My other for other first-gen students: Step outside your comfort zone. Join that sorority/fraternity or organization, take a class that is not related to your major at all, or study abroad to learn more about another culture. No matter what stepping out of your comfort zone means for you, be sure to make the most out of every opportunity thrown your way during your undergraduate career.

Kirsten Arm's Story

U of M alumni

As a first generation college student, I quickly learned how important it was to have people in my life that believed in me and could see my full potential even when I couldn’t. Growing up, my parents were those people for me. During college, my parents weren’t able to provide financial support like so many other parents could, but they were always there when I needed them and provided a support system that I didn’t realize was even more important to my success. While completing my dietetics program at Viterbo University, my academic advisor, Dr Carol Klitzke, urged me to apply for graduate school. I told her I had never considered it and that there was no way I could financially manage more time in school. She saw bigger things for my future than I allowed myself to see. Two years later, I started graduate school at UMN-Twin Cities. As I was finishing up my final year of graduate school and starting to apply for jobs, a position opened up that was the definition of my dream job. I discussed this dream job with my academic advisor, Dr. Melissa Laska, and I told her that I was not going to apply because I didn’t think I was qualified. She insisted that I was and I left her office that day wondering whether she was right. Again, another person in my life could see my full potential that I had allowed myself to dismiss. I applied for that dream job and two months later was on my way to North Carolina to start my first full-time position. My #FirstGenProud story is about those important people in my life who helped me carry on and reach my full potential despite all the obstacles of being a first generation college student.

My advice for other first-gen students: Always reach higher and never allow yourself to doubt who you are and what you can achieve.

Cheryl's Story

U of M Alumni

Growing up, I was always in honors classes. I wanted to go to college, but my parents didn’t even know how to apply. This was before the internet, so there was no way for me to find out. Then one day, I showed up for homeroom—it was honors English—and I was the only student. I didn’t know what was going on until the teacher, Mr. Oman, arrived 15 minutes later. “Cheryl,” he said. “Why in earth aren’t you in the library taking the PSAT?” “The what?,” I asked. “Come with me, you should take this, it will get you into college.” No test prep, but I must have done ok. The U accepted me. My senior year there, I left a few credits shy of a degree, but I went back 10 years later to finish. Thank you Mr. Oman from Spring Lake Park High School and all my professors at The U for making me #1...in my family to graduate.

Carolyn's Story

Faculty Member

Being a first born of two first borns, I was the first among my siblings and cousins to earn a bachelor's degree. My parents and grandparents were in professions and careers that in their eras did not necessarily require a college degree (agriculture, secret service/law enforcement, nursing, military, clergy) but they role modeled for me (and my siblings) valuing education, excellence, and hard work. They didn't need a college degree to do amazing things, but they pushed me because they understood the value of higher ed. Each of my siblings went on to graduate from college, as did most of my 16 cousins. I'm the only one (so far) with 5 college degrees, and as my daughter l likes to say, I have never left. She's technically correct. :)

Afton Delgado's Story

Undergrad Student

I came to the UMN as a transfer student from a local community college. My family and I are Oglala Sioux and from Minneapolis who resided in Saint Paul. My mom had attempted to go to school but later dropped out because of the birth of my sister and me. She was the same age as me when I graduated with my AA. My entire family felt the excitement for someone to graduate. The most unexpected part of that was continuing at the UMN. Applying to a university was uncharted territory and was one of the most difficult transitions I have ever made. I fumbled and anxiously tried putting the pieces together for my application. I worked extra hours to cover the $90 application fee. During this time we just had been evicted and I had felt guilty for using my money towards a college application. I moved into UMN housing and felt a relief but also survivors guilt. My new apt was nicer than any house or apt I’ve been in. I was on campus filled with anxiety as I endured culture shock and looked for someone from my community or a friend from school. My grades declined over the course of two years and I soon took a year off to rebuild myself and prepare for school. I am now a fifth year and applyinh for graduate programs. Things aren’t easy for First Gen students or transfer students but we are especially resilient and courageous to be trailblazers and leaders. Things get better not out of luck but because of our bravery.

Gao Vang's Story

Staff Member

I remember my older siblings coming with me to parent-teacher conferences as a child. Since elementary school, I had to read through the mail at home and explain to my parents what it said. I didn’t know how to translate the words ‘insurance’ or ‘advertisement’. My parents are refugees who have labored their entire lives to provide for my 10 siblings and me. While having little by way of formal education, my father was a natural born leader, and my mother, the embodiment of resilience and selflessness.

Higher education has afforded me opportunities to craft a life of my design. As an undergraduate student, I studied abroad in Asia, Africa, and Europe. I completed my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing here at the U of M. As a first-generation student, I felt incredibly privileged to dedicate my time to pursuing my passion, at the same time, I wrestled with imposter syndrome. I’ve since learned to use my voice, even if it shakes, and to seek out experiences that push me.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to expand the practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Working with the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs, I am uniquely positioned to share stories of people doing incredible work to advance the health of communities and address disparities.

Cheyenne Carter's Story

Undergrad Student

I am a #FirstGen student! I am so happy and so proud of myself to take my mother's next generation forward! Breaking generational curses is hard! Getting through the semester is harder! LOL

Holly Henslin Link's Story

Graduate Student

My Grandpa was born to parents who had fled France to live in Canada. He immigrated to the US in his 20's. His daughter, my mother was one of eight children who became orphaned at the age of 17, had to work to support herself, and never finished high school. My father, the son of immigrants from Germany and England, enlisted in the Navy at 17 and subsequently became a registered architect who designed some of the nation's greatest hospitals. When I turned 17, my parents gave me $2000 and their best wishes for my college career. By continually working and attending university, I was the first in my family to receive my B.A., then my MA, and am soon to receive my PhD. It wasn't easy to accomplish while raising kids and caring for aging parents. But with the partnership of a loving husband, the example of my forefathers and foremothers, and the grace of God, it's been a great journey. As Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never give up!"

Hillary's Story

Graduate Student

I am a proud daughter of Hmong refugee parents. I am a first generation Hmong American; the first child to be born and raised in the USA, one of the first to graduate with a four year college degree, and now one of the first to obtain a graduate degree. I want to honor my ancestors who have gone before me – who have passed down their wisdom, knowledge and resiliency. And I also want to thank all my family, friends, supporters, mentors and the Gates Millennium Scholarship for their support.

Madisen Gittlin's Story

Graduate Student

Ever since I was little, I've wanted to change the world and make it a better place. I grew up knowing an education is the surest way of realizing that dream. I am the first in my family to earn a Bachelors degree, and further, am the first to attend graduate school. I am grateful every day that I found my passion and in environmental sustainability and food systems as it drives me through my graduate studies and beyond.

Devin's Story

Staff Member

I always knew that my parents wanted me to go to college, but I never realized how difficult it would be to navigate higher ed without someone who had experienced the process themselves and had the financial resources to pass on to me. From applying to schools, figuring out financial aid, and attending college, I was quick to learn that these institutions had historically excluded and made the process intentionally more difficult for students like me. I was fortunate enough to find community with other first-gen students and find staff members and advisors that were willing to help and advocate for me. With this support, my parents dream became my own and I fell in love with learning inside and outside the classroom so much that I decided to pursue a career post-grad as a Student Affairs professional. I am so happy to have honored my parents wishes and to have made them and myself proud by receiving a degree.

Jabra Kawas's Story

Staff Member

As the first person in my family to attend college, I felt a great sense of pride. Especially when two of my younger sisters followed suit and attended the U of M. Being accepted at the U of M would have never happened had it not been for my 11th grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Dahl. One day, after class near the end of the school year, she approached me and asked what I planned to do after high school. In typical 16 year old boy fashion I muttered, "I don't know." Mrs. Dahl looked at me and asked if I was considering college. In typical 16 year old boy fashion once again I mumbled, "I don't know." What she said next changed the trajectory of my life. "Well, you should, because you're smart enough." I had never heard that before. I owe being a first gen student to a very caring teacher who saw something in me that I didn't.

Morgan's Story

Graduate Student

Being a first-gen student during undergrad honestly didn't faze me much, but this identity has become much more salient in my life as I've gone through graduate school. There is so much you don't know when you're the one blazing the trail of pursuing an advanced degree; you have to learn so much on the fly. Part of that learning includes learning how to deal with things like impostor syndrome and being more gracious and kind to yourself as you navigate this entirely new experience. Personally, I'm thankful for the support systems I have as I've moved through my education, and I am so proud of my identity as a first-gen graduate student. First-gen students are tenacious, determined, and the hardest workers I know, and I'm proud to be among them.

Tenzin Choerap's Story

Graduate Student and Staff Member with TRIO Upward Bound

I was born in India as a Tibetan refugee and immigrated to the united states when I was ten years old. My family and I struggled navigating the complicated process of the western school system, but TRIO gave me a lending hand. TRIO is a federally funded program that assist first generation and students from moderate income background persist and attain bachelors degree and/or Ph.D. I was a part of TRIO (ETS, SSS, McNair) from middle school, high school and up until I graduated from college. I benefited immensely from the support and guidance from my TRIO councilors when I needed it the most. My exposure to TRIO made me want to do something similar for the Tibetan community here in the Twin Cities. During my undergraduate years, couple of my friends and I started a tutoring/mentoring program called LAMTON (meaning guidance in Tibetan) that provided support and guidance for first generation Tibetan students in high school. My work with LAMTON invoked my passion and a purpose for what I want to do in life - that is to advocate and work for the underserved student population. Currently, I am a college access advisor with TRIO Upward Bound at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities campus and also a graduate student in the OLPD of H.E. I am where I am today because of all the genuine support and care I received from TRIO staff, faculty, school administrations and family. I proud to be the first one in my family to receive a bachelor's degree and soon, my masters! #ProudFirstGen

Chelsea Garcia's Story

Staff Member

I am proud to be a first-generation student! Knowing that my parents would not be the only source for support for me I sought out advisors and mentors across campus to help me along the way. My mentors helped me access employment opportunities, gave me guidance on how and when to purse my Master's degree, and helped me celebrate my college career victories. Mentors are incredibly important to my success and they continue to hold me accountable even to this day! If you are a first-generation college student and you are looking for support, find me. I am happy to connect and help you find your place on our campus.

Catalina Anampa Castro's Story

Undergrad Student

My hardworking, dedicated, and strong parents worked very hard to give me the opportunities I needed to be able to attend college. I am the first in my immediate family to go to college and this spring I will be the first to graduate!

Dan Garrison's Story

Staff Member

College was always an option, but I had no idea what that meant. Even after I earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, I was still searching for that meaning. Now, eight years later, I am going to be the first one in my immediate family to get a Master’s degree in the OLPD higher education program where my focus has been multiracial identity on campus. I would never had made it this far without the unconditional support of my parents and close friends and it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that college as an option was profound! The U can be hard to navigate as a first generation student, but know you have the support of those who came before you! #UMNFirst #FirstGenProud

Jordan's Story

UMTC Student

As a first generation college student, who is now pursuing a PhD in cancer immunology, I have overcome numerous obstacles to get to where I am. I urge you all to recognize that you are in control of your own life and to not allow the factors of your past to dictate your future.

Vicky Yang's Story

UMTC Student

As a first-generation college student, my path to college has been quite strenuous and coming from a family background of little to no post-secondary education has greatly influenced my goals and aspirations. As refugees of the Vietnam War, my parents have always encouraged and influenced me to seek out as much knowledge as I could from this country that has offered me so many opportunities like having access to an education system.

Being the oldest of 4 children, I always felt like it was my duty to pave the way for my younger brothers by going to college but a part of me always felt like I wasn't "smart" enough to make it through. It was difficult for me, especially during the first year because I was physically separated from my family- my biggest cheerleaders. Despite the pressures of school, I pushed through time and time again because I reminded myself just how much I wanted to do it for my brothers but also for my parents and grandparents who sacrificed a lot for me to have this life. Eventually, I went on to earn my AA degree and now I'm here at the U.

Here, I found my support system. I have reliable peers I can look to for advice, I have friends who support and push me to achieve in my academics, and I have advisors who do the most to help me maximize my potential. I am now in my 4th year, on track to graduate in the spring. My advice to all my other fellow first-gen students is to trust your process and believe in yourself, self doubt is the biggest killer of all dreams. Dream big and dream fearlessly. Find resources and network with others because they will be the ones to help you reach that finish line. Lastly, when you're going through rough times, always think about the people who are cheering you on because you're doing exactly what they didn't have the chance to do.

Bailey Johnson's Story

UMTC Student

My story is a common one. I grew up in a single-parent home with a mother who often worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. Going to the U seemed like a far-off dream for so long, but now I'm here and set to graduate this May. It has been incredibly difficult, and I've come so close to quitting so many times, but in just a few months I will get to put on my cap and gown and walk alongside my classmates. My greatest hope is that my graduation sets an example for my younger cousins and half-siblings, nearly all of whom would also be first-generation students.

Linda Vang Kim's Story

UMTC Staff Member

Growing up in a single parent, poor, immigrant household, my mother emphasized the importance of education. She never had the opportunity to attend school back in Laos and believed the only way out of poverty was to get a good education. Even though I struggled with ACT prep, college applications, and FAFSA forms alone, I always had her support. Although it wasn't culturally accepted, she allowed me to "go away" to college and live in the dorms. At college, I quickly realized how out of place I was. I hadn't known what to expect, felt like an imposter, and was angry. Mostly I was angry. After an invigorating class discussion, I knew my classmates could go back to their dorms and call up their parents to continue the conversation... I couldn't. Despite this, I found support from TRIO Student Support Services, where I met other first gen students and formed a caring and supportive community that helped me feel less "different". And my mom, bless her heart, always sent me back to school with a box of noodles and a bag of rice after a weekend back home. This familiar food sustained me through the hardest years of my life.

Alexis M. Murillo

UMTC Student

I am incredibly #FirstGenProud. My family sacrificed so much for me to leave everything behind in Chicago and attend school at the University of Minnesota. So, when I came here, I knew that I had to make the most of my collegiate experience, not only for me, but for them, too. When I think of my #FirstGenProud Story, I cannot help but remember a telephone call with my Nana at the beginning of my collegiate career. She was in awe that I was taking an introductory Chemistry course. Although, in the life of many college students, introduction to Chemistry is a basic science course, I remembered that such a class was not a familiar concept to my incredible Nana - a woman filled with so much wisdom. In that conversation at the beginning of my collegiate career, I realized how blessed I truly am with the opportunity to pursue a higher education and do things no one else in my family has ever done. Often, we forget that roughly 70% of Americans don’t have college degrees. Navigating college has not been easy, but I am thankful for everything I have learned and I hope to pass that on to other #FirstGen students in the future.

Richard Lee's Story

UMTC Faculty Member

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.

First Gen Student's Story

My parents always pushed me to go to college because they did not get the support they needed when they were kids. My mom made sure we were in a school district where the majority of kids go to college. I am proud to say that I am a college student, and I see college as a privilege. I thank my parents for encouraging me to go to college even though they did not get to.

Angie Fertig's Story

UMTC Adjust Faculty Member

I am an economist and adjunct faculty at the Humphrey School. My father was an enlisted member of the Air Force with a high school degree who met my mother while stationed in South Korea. My mother only had the opportunity to complete the 6th grade. They worked hard and saved every penny to help send me and my brother to college. I studied and soaked up everything I could to make a better life for my family and to help others through research and teaching.

Elisandro Cabada's Story

UMTC Librarian

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.

Will's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Minerva S. Munoz's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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.

Kady Johnson's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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!

Marquis Taylor's Story

UMTC Staff Member

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

Juan Telles' Story

UMTC Staff Member

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