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Kaeti Namba

Kaeti Namba

University of Portland '12

Major: Communication Studies, Intercultural Communication, Collaborative Discourse

Currently: Namba One Consulting (Communications and Graphic Design)

What was it like being among the first in your family to go to college? Tell us about your story and what you think helped you succeed.

Going to college was the expected thing to do from the high school that I attended. So, when all my friends were accepted to Ivy League schools, I went to a state school and felt even more lost because I didn't have my close network of friends with me. My mom didn't go to college so she couldn't give me any advice as to what I'd expect living in dorms, making new friends, talking to professors, and even such things as buying books. Let alone the difficult stuff to navigate like financial aid and registration. My grandpa went to college, but that was such a long time ago (he graduated from UP in 1952) that the school system had changed so much, guidelines were different, and just the process of registering for classes was so different that he couldn't give me anything more than moral support.

I'm an only child and the oldest grandchild in my family so I was the first one to experience college. I was the one who had to learn things the hard way. I was the one who made the mistakes and had to learn on my own what it was like navigate a system that was completely foreign to me.

I had no idea what I was doing for the first two years. I didn't have a professor that I could check in with about the classes I was taking and making sure I was on the right path to graduate on time. When registration occurred, I was just picking classes that sounded interesting or that my new friends were in. I felt incredibly lost and because of that I didn't pass all my classes during the first two years of school.

Eventually, I learned the importance of reaching out to my professors. They were there not only to teach but to be important people in my life that helped me navigate a system I didn't understand. I also found out about a First Generations program that I qualified for and enrolled in it to meet people who were like me. I also developed close relationships with one specific professor and she became a mentor to me.

Are there any unique challenges you faced as a first gen student? How did you overcome these?

My biggest challenge was understanding Financial Aid. I didn't realize the commitment that I was making when I took out loans and how that would impact my post-college future. I also didn't have the financial management skills that are necessary to be a college student on their own. It wasn't until my last year in college that I was required to take a financial aid class for a private loan that I finally understood the difference between the loan types, interest, and how to make a payment at the beginning of the semester last four months (or longer). Financial aid offices see so many students that I didn't feel like they had the time to sit with me and help me understand the system.

My suggestion would be to take a financial management class to understand how you need to budget and possibly borrow as little as you can. Also, if you can, find a friend who gets the system. This is usually going to be someone who is a senior or already graduated, like me, to talk about your fears, anxieties, etc. You are not alone, resources like the First Gen program are here to match students with people like me to help make your college years as successful and enjoyable as possible.

Did a mentor play a role in your experience? Why or how?

I didn't meet my mentor until I was in my last semester of my Junior year. But, from then on I knew I had a relationship with someone who wanted the best for my well being, not just for my school success. My mentor and I met for lunch and kept in contact throughout the semester to check in, even if for 5 minutes or a quick email to say hi. It's all about the feeling that i wasn't traveling an uncertain road alone. The most rewarding time for my mentor and I was when I was graduated and was able to thank her for all that she had done for me.

it's not always about having a relationship with someone to help you get through college, its about ensuring that your mentor understands your personal needs as well. During my graduate program I had to move home to take care of my ill grandparents and I quit my first graduate program because of it. My mentor assured me that my responsibilities to my family were more important to me and that things would work out for me to obtain my Masters at another time in my life. Which happened to be spot-on true, I came home to care for my grandparents and they gave me the gift of going back to school for my Masters.

What is your advice to first gen students at UP who are facing challenges?

Find people who want to support you, we are out there! You are not alone and you can do it!!! Don't give up, even when times are tough and you feel like nobody understands the struggles or anxieties you have, there are people who have been in your same position. I was.

Mentors are the best support systems and over time they can become a lifeline not only in college for you but for your professional career as well. I understand the struggle that most students face when they are the first student in your family to attend college. Your parents and family will talk about how proud they are of you, and no matter how successful or not you may be (because there will be challenges and difficult times ahead) you can do this!

How do you feel your experience prepared you for your personal and professional life after college?

Being the first in my family to attend college was challenging. The expectations from my family and myself were high. I didn't know what I was doing a lot of the time. I wish I could go back in time and take my advice to find a mentor my freshman year (and it's OK if you're a senior and just now finding a mentor, that's what I did) to get through the tough times. Especially being at a school away from home, it's kind of nice to know that someone cares that doesn't live more than 1000 miles away from me.

Having a mentor in college was the best experience for me because I was able to develop a trusting relationship with someone outside of my family or circle of friends. A mentor relationship also helped me build confidence in myself because I was able to be successful in situations that were new to me, through the guidance of my mentor. Even in my professional career, having a mentor in college helped me look for and know what I wanted in a professional mentor relationship. Today, I still talk to my college mentor and have a professional mentor that is based off what I learned from my college experience.

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