Michael Pelley

Michael PelleyCurrent Position: Director of International Student Services

Alma Mater: University of Oregon

Major/Undergraduate field of study: History

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

My parents had the foresight to provide my siblings and I with quality Catholic elementary and high school educations. Most of my friends and peers at school were going to university, so I believed that if they could make it to university, so could I. Additionally, since the age of 12, I worked every summer to help offset tuition at Catholic school and other necessities. These employment experiences helped me realize that by going to university I could stay out of the full-time work force and discover other parts of life that I otherwise would not have experienced.

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

Two areas really stuck out to me as challenges as a first gen student. First, trying to figure out how to pay for school when most of my classmates had parental or other financial means of support. I was constantly balancing school, employment, and having enough money for food, rent, and clothing whereas many people I knew had never been employed or needed a job. It did help that I was independent of my parents at this time in my life so I qualified for Pell Grants and other aid that offset some tuition and living expenses. Second, truly understanding that there is a whole network of people at universities that are great resources for nearly everything. Once I dialed into the resources the university had to offer, my actual stress decreased and quality of life, including grades, improved!

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

Utilize the resources the university has to offer. Trust in these people and offices and learn the rules of engagement for how to succeed. Learning how to be a better student can, and will, have a positive impact in other areas of your life. Furthermore, get involved with campus activities. Not only is this a great way to make friends and enhance your social life, but it also grows your network and develops other skill sets necessary for post university experiences. 

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

During my 4th year I led a student run organization and the faculty advisor to our program was also a mentor to me. She spent a lot of time helping me develop my professional and interpersonal communication skills as this position required a lot of contact with students, faculty, staff and off campus organizations. She understood that I was first gen even though I did not even know what that term meant at this time. It was years later when I finally realized that she understood my background and how much she helped me develop and grow. I still use many of the lessons learned from those experiences today. 

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

These experiences help prepare me for life after college in many ways. One, many experiences in life, employment for example, are often about understanding systems that are in play. Having utilized the many campus resources at my university, meeting with my professors, asking questions, gave me the understanding and knowledge that I could use similar tactics out in the 'real world'. Two, my university experience allowed me to meet, socialize, befriend, and even challenge people who were different, had different life experiences, and different outlooks than me. University helped me to open my mind to other ideas and ways of going about life. It was expected by my friends, the community we lived in, and the university, that we engage in civil discourse. These lessons I have carried until this day.

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