My dad worked on the assembly line at Caterpillar and my mom was a teacher’s aide. They both encouraged me to attend college. My parents saw college as a way to invest in and improve myself. Also, I was fortunate to have a high school agriculture teacher that was a good role model for me. My high school ag teacher along with the SRC agriculture instructor gave me the confidence to proceed forward with college and become a teacher. My biggest challenge as a first-generation college student was that I didn’t know, what I didn’t know. As I was going through college, I asked questions, listened to the experiences of other students, and sought guidance from my SRC faculty to overcome my lack of knowledge and awareness of what to do and when to do it. I refer back to my experiences and the experiences of other first-generation college students and use those experiences to help SRC improve and make the lives of other first-generation college students easier. We always build on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, steadily improving so the next students have an even better college experience.
Being a nontraditional and first-generation student, I was very unsure of my ability to make it through school. With four children at home, and my husband working three and a half hours away (he only made it home on weekends), I had to balance school, child care, and work. There were moments where I felt like I should just give up, but I persevered. Being part of a TRIO program at Carl Sandburg College in my second year, they helped me prepare for my transition to a four-year college. The TRIO Advisor brought me to Western Illinois University to meet with a counselor and one of the faculty in the biology department. I was grateful for the help they gave me to start my journey at WIU. Having TRIO with me, made all the difference.
Education was very important in my home growing up. Four out of five of my brothers and sisters completed a college education, and two completed master’s degrees. My biggest challenge I encountered as a first-generation student was money – money – money! I didn’t pay off my student loans until my 50 ’s. Being a first-generation college student, it has influenced my work in that, I believe for those that really want an education can make it happen. Determination is key!
My parents strongly value education and saw college as a way for me to create the most options possible for my future. My mom is a graduate of Midstate College and continues to work as the Director of the Fulton County Housing Authority. My dad completed training and worked as an iron worker for forty-three years. They both are very hard workers, whose examples encouraged me to go to college and always work hard. As a first generation college student, I was fortunate to have my parents, who became educated on how to prepare for college and all of the things that go along with it. Together, we navigated through. While attending WIU, I also worked as a Student Worker in the Office of Student Development and Orientation. This position also heightened my awareness of things that were important and available while being a college student. I utilized support from my friends and peers in classes. I asked questions as needed. I did not settle on being unsure about something, whether class-related or otherwise, as I wanted to be prepared. I am so happy to be working with TRIO students who benefit from having the support of the program. TRIO offers so many things that can help someone in college, and even one support utilized might make all of the difference to a student.
As a first generation college student, Spoon River College was a great place for me to start my educational journey. I graduated from a small, rural high school and I had a number of fears and worries about attending college. I remember being very nervous about literally everything such as: where and what time my classes were, where I was going to park, how I would afford books, having a good enough computer, speaking up to ask a question in class, being able to work enough hours to still keep up with my rent and bills, and much more. I quickly found the small class sizes, outstanding faculty, and friendly staff at SRC helped to dismantle the anxiety I had about attending college. After a semester or so, I found myself building relationships with faculty and peers which allowed me to feel comfortable asking for help and guidance. My second semester I took a class in sociology – which consequently became my major as I continued my education, earning a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree at WIU.
My mom returned to community college, as a non-traditional student, when I was a young child. I saw how much of a sacrifice that was as a single parent, while she earned her associate degree. From there, my mom encouraged me to get an education before I started a family. As a first-generation college student, college processes surrounding financial aid were very confusing to me. I did not understand what the Pell and MAP grant were, or how to be smart about taking out student loans. I wish now that I had connected with my college’s TRIO-SSS program, as I would have been eligible for services! As a TRIO professional now, I am able to help other first-generation students navigate college processes and also, help them find options to make college more affordable.