Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Montana Hisel-Cochran

Montana and Tish

Tish Tolentino (L) and Montana Hisel-Cochran

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

I always cared about school. I remember the first time I got into trouble in Kindergarten, and the first time my name was written on the board. Both experiences were very traumatic! I loved learning, reading, and engaging with other students. I cannot remember when I first heard about college, but from middle school on I knew I wanted to go there. There were no four year colleges in our small New Mexican town, so obviously I would leave. My parents were the most important ingredient for my success; not because they told me I should or would go to college, but because they told me I could try anything I wanted. They did not tell me that I deserved everything and would be successful at everything, but that if I had an idea, or a desire, hard work and determination would help get me there. And no matter what, they would be with me cheering me on.

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

I had no idea when I applied, but I think Adams State has a large First Gen population. My floor was co-ed, suite style, (the only one of its kind on campus), and I am pretty sure about 90 percent of those students were also first gen. It wasn't something we talked about then, I don't think I realized I was considered "first gen" until I started working for a federally-funded grant program that targeted first gen students. The men and women on my college dorm floor, we became our own little family. We asked each other questions and stuck together when we felt out of place with others.

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

College is amazing, and scary. Don't let the scary overshadow the amazing. Make friends, laugh, and establish a relationship with at least one staff or faculty member. I guarantee that you will want to reach out to them long after your four years are done. When you leave college, you won't be the same person as when you started; it's not your problem if other people don't get it.

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

Absolutely; though it has never been just one person. As I said, I was interested in college starting in middle school, but decisions were made in high school. My mom worked with a woman, Cheri LaCounte, who was from the East Coast and working at the branch community college in my hometown. This woman and her husband talked to me about college and helped me fill out paperwork and scholarship applications.

The Theatre professor I mentioned above, Dr. Harper, and my other Theatre professor, Doc Newman, and my speech coach, Dr. Svaldi, were all instrumental in encouraging me to challenge myself on a regular basis. When I joined the speech team, (mostly because my roommate did), I was able to fly on a plane for the first time. I was not a great speech competitor, but Dr. Svaldi gave me opportunities just the same. Dr. Harper and Doc Newman made every student involved in the Theatre program feel like a part of the family, which was crucial to me because I was six hours from my mom and six hours from my dad.

I also had great professors in my other classes, though sadly my memory does not serve me well in terms of names. Going to a small state school with knowledgeable faculty, feeling I was cared for, and having the opportunity to get involved on campus in many ways made my college experience exactly what I needed.

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

I was interested in so many things in college. I took a variety of classes and was allowed to explore many fields. I learned that I could survive away from my parents and brothers, though I missed them terribly. That allowed me, almost 20 years later, by choice, to have a new adventure and move across the country to Oregon.

I learned that it is okay to ask for help, and it is okay to make mistakes, and I won'  always be good at everything (I almost flunked Piano I; yes, yes, I did!).

I learned that hard work and determination, just as my parents had thought, really does pay off!

I learned that college is awesome, but the rest of life can be awesome too. It is up to you to make sure you don't, as the great Bruce Springsteen said: "just sit around talking about the old times.'

Connect with Montana