Dr. Casey Shillam

Casey ShillamCurrent Position: Dean and Professor, School of Nursing

Alma Mater: Portland State University; Oregon Health Sciences University

Major/Undergraduate field of study: Nursing and Philosophy

What was it like being among the first in your family to go to college?

There was a tremendous amount of support and cheerleading by my family, but they had never been to college and did not know how to navigate the system. I ended up going into military service, and I believe that having a better level of maturity and determination led to my success in higher education. I also had tremendous mentors and advisors throughout my education. I turned to them in times of vulnerability and uncertainty, and they are truly the reason I was able to succeed.

Are there any unique challenges you faced as a First Generation student?

I actually lost a scholarship in my first year of college because I didn't know how to ask for help. I was a straight-A student in high school, and never had to seek out guidance or support from faculty. This inability to know how to ask for help led also led to me leaving the University of Portland after just one semester, because I didn't know there were other options for helping support my education outside of the ROTC scholarship. I gained a lot of experience and understanding of how to function as a team and how to ask for help while in the Air Force, and this aided in my ability to succeed in college.

Do you have any advice for FGEN students at UP that are facing challenges?

You are not alone! There are so many others who can support you, and you must reach out to ask for help!

Did a mentor play a role in your experience?  How so?

Absolutely. I had a tremendous mentor in my first degree program who helped me to see that I was not only intelligent and capable, but that I had a lot of offer the world. I also had a mentor throughout both of my graduate degrees who helped me overcome (okay, you never really overcome - but learned to manage!) my imposter syndrome, leading me to pursue a career in academia.

How do you feel your experience prepared you, both professionally and personally?

I learned to embrace opportunities to take on leadership roles and knew those experiences would directly lead to my ability to be successful. I also have learned much about how to care for others from many different perspectives: as a first generation student, as a veteran, as a philosopher, and now as a nurse.

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