Tuesday, March 25, 2014

First-generation students driven to pursue aspirations

By student public relations writer Megan Valentine

Last week various faculty members commented on the challenges faced by first-generation college students and the efforts OU-C makes to aid their transition. Read more here. Now we have the opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of four students who made the leap to pursue higher education against the odds.

The decision to attend college made by first-generation students is often guided by a number of factors. Professional aspirations, personal goals and family needs all must be taken into consideration.

Krista Jones chose to continue her education after high school and pursue a degree in human services technology after reflecting on her career options.

“I’ve always loved art and anything related to creativity, but I knew that a job in those fields would probably not be very beneficial. People always told me that I was a great person to talk to and that I always had the right things to say when they needed advice,” says Jones. “I decided that I wanted to help adolescents in foster care or who are defiant or runaways because I was once like that. Even if I could just help one kid turn their life around like I did mine, that one kid could maybe help another do the same.”

Sara Winans made the decision to go back to school to provide a better life for her daughter.

“She looks up to me, watches my every move and depends on me, so going back to school was one of the smartest things I will probably ever do,” says Winans. “Going through a divorce, raising my
Sara Winans
daughter, working, going to school and taking care of everything else that is on my plate isn't easy, but sitting in a corner doing nothing isn't going to make it better either. I want my daughter to grow up knowing you can still be strong even when faced with things that weaken you.”

In addition to taking classes on the Chillicothe Campus she also currently works in the cafeteria at Unioto School. Winans, who is studying human services technology, plans to go into social work after completing her degree.

To ease the financial burdens of tuition and other expenses some first-generation students are able to secure loans, scholarships and grants. Others also take smaller steps to save money, like purchasing books early on discount sites or borrowing them when possible. Students lacking support or understanding at home are often able to turn to high school guidance counselors, OU-C faculty members and other mentors for help navigating the new obstacles.

According to Jada Vandagriff, an early childhood education major from Circleville Ohio, the greatest challenge she faced as a first-generation student was the lack of guidance when it came time for the transition from high school to college.

“It is actually a lot more difficult than I imagined. Signing up for the FAFSA and filling out scholarship and college applications were challenging,” says Vandagriff. “Scheduling classes was also a little overwhelming for me at first and dealing with it on my own was definitely hard.”

OU-C offers assistance with completing the FAFSA and other steps related to the college application process.

For Winans, many of her challenges are more personal.

“According to statistics I should be hiding under a rock or worse because of all the things I could use as crutches, but I try really hard not to let them ruin what I'm working so hard to achieve. I'm not going to be a statistic,” says Winans. “So many people fall back on their hard times in life, but I want to be able to say, ‘no excuses’ and graduate on time or sooner.”

The satisfaction earned by first-generation students when they accomplish their educational goals is, in many ways, more rewarding than for other students. Overcoming numerous disadvantages and becoming the first in their family to break the mold helps to pave the way for continued success.

Larissa Palmer, a sophomore studying early childhood education, began her college career at
Larissa Palmer
Shawnee State University before transferring to the Chillicothe Campus. As a first-generation student with younger siblings, being the first to attend college will also allow her to step into a mentoring role.

“I was motivated, and basically expected to go to college, because I am the oldest and I would be the first in my family to attend,” says Palmer. “Going to college in my hometown where my younger brother lives is an advantage. With him graduating this year, I can teach him all of the ropes!”

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