Dr. Genevieve Brassard

Genevieve BrassardCurrent Position: Associate Professor and Chair, Department of English

Alma Mater: San Francisco State University

Major/Undergraduate field of study: English Literature

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

I grew up in Quebec City. My family was middle-class, but my parents never went to college (my father started working at age 13, and my mother graduated from a kind of home economics program that allowed her to teach in high school when I was growing up). I always loved school and my parents always encouraged me to attend college, but my path was unusual because I quit college after two years and didn't return until my late twenties to complete my degree, after many years in the work place. Once I returned to school (at San Francisco State), I worked full time in a bookstore while taking 15 credits per term, making the Dean's List every semester. Looking back now, I'm not sure how I managed it, but I was passionate about reading and getting my degree, and I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, so I was highly motivated.

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

My main challenge was studying in a second language (my first language is French), and in a field my parents didn't fully understand or appreciate (my mother only spoke French). A secondary challenge was their reaction when I abandoned a 'safe' major, translation studies (a field almost guaranteed to yield secure employment in bilingual Canada), to pursue acting dreams in the United States. Perhaps the biggest disconnect between my education and my background came when I pursued my doctorate in English, since I was (and still am) the only person in my extended family to earn an advanced degree, and in a different language.

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

Don't be afraid to ask for help; professors and staff are here to support and guide you. Seek out peers in similar predicaments for support. Expect changes in your relationship with your parents and/or relatives and/or siblings, because education is about shaking things up and transforming the self, and sometimes those changes are not necessarily welcomed by the people who have known you all your life. Enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to get an education, even when it's stressful or exhausting: it is well worth it.

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

Three professors made a difference in my life. At Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, Professor Judy Colle taught Victorian Literature and supported my efforts as I struggled to read massive novels like Middlemarch and Vanity Fair as an ESL student. At San Francisco State, I had two wonderful professors who helped make the dream of graduate school a reality: Stephen Arkin and Loretta Stec. Both provided great models of inspiring teaching, believed in me when I doubted myself, and wrote letters of recommendation for my graduate school applications. I wouldn't be here today without these three individuals.

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

I think my non-traditional path to college, and my economically modest background, have been great assets because I don't take anything for granted, I have worked hard to accomplish my goals, and I'm here to tell FGEN students (and others, of perhaps modest means or from other cultural backgrounds) that hard work does pay off, and that everyone who really cares about education deserves to be here and thrive.

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