Today, the topic came up in one of our meetings that students who attend our online schools are often first-generation students. While statistically, I know this, it is interesting to talk about this overall and how it affects our students. I wanted to look at the topic from a personal viewpoint, and then think about how I can work with my first-generation students to help them feel incorporated into the university or college and supported.
My mother was a first-generation student. Neither of her parents attended college. Her father was in the military, and her mother worked a variety of jobs, eventually settling on working for KMart (where she still works part time). She even, at times, made homemade goods to sell locally. My mother didn’t start going to school until I was 13 (old enough to be on my own and babysit my sister), so she was also an older student who had been out of school for a long time. Over time, she completed her Associates Degree at a local community college and went on to attend a University, obtaining multiple degrees there.
However, it was not easy for her to do any of this. She worked a full time and had two daughters while going to school and it was definitely a struggle at times. She would wake up early (and I mean really early) so she could study and complete homework before going to work. She would set up crock pot dinners or simple dinners I could make or heat up for myself and my sister while she attended classes after work. My father worked long hours and often did not get home until late, but every weekend, he would push for us to go do fun things – go to the lake, the beach, Big Bear, or to other fun places because he needed this after working so hard every day. My mom would join us but she would also have to complete homework or study her textbooks while we were out at various places. She struggled with remembering information and she often told me she felt it took her longer to complete her work than she expected. With a lot of time, focus, and work, she managed to push through all of it and is now a Special Education Principal for a local county office of education. It definitely paid off!!
For my sister and myself, college life was a little different. Having seen our mother (and for my sister, me) go through the college experience, I think it was a lot easier for both of us to get started, stay organized, and keep our focus. As a first-generation student, I think it can be difficult to know what is expected of you. Without some kind of guidance or advisor, it can be a struggle just to find out what classes you need, how to organize your schedule, or to develop strong time management skills. After years of attending school and going to work full time, I think first-generation students can also start to lose motivation and ask themselves why they are going through all of this in the first place. However, my mother persevered and has benefited greatly from all of her work.
Every day, my mother is a strong reminder of what someone can accomplish if they put their mind to it. She is a perfect example of my students every day – someone who hadn’t attended college for a long time, worked a full time job while attending college, and raised two daughters while attending college – both of whom went on to obtain advanced degrees as well. She is a shining example, and I always try to keep her in mind when I work with my students and meet each one.
Each mother and each father in my classes is trying to be that shining example for their own family, and I hope I can help give them the tools they need to accomplish that goal!