Patricia McDonald

Patricia McDonaldCurrent Position: Graphic Design Manager

Alma Mater: Gonzaga University (BA), College for Creative Studies, Central Michigan University

Major/Undergraduate field of study: Communication Design / Organizational Leadership

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

As the youngest of six, I was always a keen observer of my siblings and that helped provide me with direction. Unfortunately, much of what I learned was what not to do! My teachers through school were always an inspiration and going away to college was an escape from circumstances -- a very homogenous mid-size town on Lake Michigan, as well as a way to pursue an inkling of an idea in some creative endeavor. The idea was sparked by my high school art teacher who worked in the advertising or design field in NYC. My plan was to explore the world beyond the midwest, Chicago and Syracuse, New York. My family did not support attending college in any way; financial, emotional, the value of finding one's path through education. Admittedly, the first two years away from ages 18-20; involved a range of mistakes, new experiences, increased independence, jealousy of my roommates who received care packages and parent visits, and overall positive in that my next steps became clear and my world opened up. I moved to Detroit for several reasons, one of which was to attend a well-regarded art school to study Communication Design. Ages 20-22 are probably not easy for anyone and that was true for me -- commuting to an urban school, surrounded by plenty of talented people, taking advantage of the range of what a city has to offer, travels to NYC, LA and SanFrancisco -- not easy, but further expanding what was possible. Had I not attended art school (all professors were working professionals); I may not have pursued Graphic Design, so with all the difficulty and missteps, my 1.5 years at CCS were instrumental in my growth. But, then, I dropped out which was devastating for a while. Getting back into a program while working was impossible. Again, lack of family encouragement was lacking. Fortunately, my boyfriends mother was a real source of solace and she tried to help me get back on track. Within a few years and several part-time jobs, I landed one at an ad agency. Being surrounded by this team of quirky, interesting, smart, artistic people confirmed my career direction. I also met many people by volunteering in my 20s. All this helped me succeed.

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

Yes, many unique challenges. Sometimes it seems that a first gen student needs to create their own circle of people who care. That is a big gap and not easy to do, especially for a semi-introvert. Asking for help has also never come easy for me. It's almost as if you don't know that you don't know what to request. I would guess most first gen do not know all the people at a university who are actually there to do whatever they can to shepherd you through. Ultimately, I did a lot of therapy. Honestly, that probably helped get me on the right footing and let go of at least some of the most damaging things that happened to me while growing up. The things that were still standing in my way while trying to complete school. In the end, working in my field: first at an ad agency, then a design firm, having my own business in Detroit and SF, working for Birkenstock HQ, another agency with clients like Nintento / AT&T, etc. gave me much more confidence. Clearly, a degree is not needed to work in my field and yet; I still always wanted to finish. My final opportunity came after a move to Spokane, WA and there; with an spouse discount and my ad agency employer paying the balance -- I was able to get my Bachelors at 40! For a first gen and person with a full time job (as some in the hybrid program were), GU had a good system to allow people like me to finish their degrees. I suppose overcoming the challenges for me was to remind myself: don't ever give up, ask for what you need, go beyond your comfort zone, surround yourself with others who are up to something.

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

Find a circle of people (whether at an internship, volunteering, online groups, like-minded) with shared interests who encourage one another. Or even a one person, a few people who have you best at heart. Being in new surroundings is good. Take advantage of the health center at your school -- physical, emotional and spiritual are all important. Stay engaged in your school work. Connect with others who understand FGEN.

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

Yes, as mentioned earlier my boyfriends mother. She taught me a lot of the social graces. She helped me to look ahead to the future. Not a specific mentor, but my teachers at CCS were crucial. They made me see where I could go and understand the variety of real world careers in a very broad field.

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

I think many things take longer for FGEN. Though it does not have to be that way. I probably made many mistakes and can't help but feel that if I had finished at CCS; my work life would have had been different. The upside is this has made me much more persistent and full of gratitude for what I've accomplished. I know that there isn't one path.

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