Rikki Cor

 

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

It was hard! I particularly remember the application process and the first year of college as being especially difficult. My family wanted to be supportive, but they just didn't have the knowledge or experience to know how to help. My small high school had two guidance counselors for the whole school, so that was also a limited resource. I felt so fortunate to get into the only school that I applied to; I didn't realize at the time that I could have applied (and probably gotten in) to other schools. I also remember the first year of college feeling as though I was constantly putting on a facade. Everyone else seemed to speak the same "language"; they all seemed to intuitively understand how to register for classes, write papers, study, and where to go if you were struggling. I often remember feeling like I had so many "dumb questions" and nobody to ask. Fortunately, I was able to make close friends with another student in my dorm who I trusted to ask these questions. We took all of our classes together for two years and she was able to point me in the right direction and encourage me to ask for help when I needed it. I tend to be more introverted, so getting involved with clubs on campus wasn't a good fit for me. What helped me to succeed was finding a few close people whom I trusted and could count on for support.

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

I think one of the most concrete challenges that I faced as a first generation student was financial. Many of the students that I was surrounded by came from families that were able to help them pay for school, housing, and other expenses. I was really fortunate to receive enough federal grant money to cover my tuition and books, but my family was not able to provide any other help. I think what helped me to overcome this and other barriers was that I had grown up needing to figure out creative ways of navigating life. I may not have known exactly how to "do college", but I think most FGEN students have more grit and perseverance than they're aware of. I'd needed to work to support myself for many years leading up to college, so getting a job and balancing school/work wasn't new to me.

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

You have more strengths and skills than you realize! Your strengths may not look like your peers strengths, but they are still relevant. You might not have had access to family who could walk you through the college process, but they likely gave you other skills that your peers might not have. For me, I was able to show a lot of people how to do laundry, I knew how to make really yummy meals on a budget, knew how to regulate my emotions when I felt overwhelmed, could change my own oil, was able to get a job relatively easily, and had compassion for other people who were struggling. My advice would be to not underestimate the importance of the skills and strengths that you have.

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

I was really fortunately to connect with a psychology professor, Dr. Tamina Toray, during my junior year who was really intentional in mentoring me. She gave me experiences, like being a TA in one of her classes, that helped a lot when I decided to apply for graduate school. She was also the first person who told me that I could (and should) continue with my education. If undergrad was something that my family wasn't able to help with, graduate school was completely unheard of! She mentored me through talking to other professors about their experiences in grad school, the application process, and celebrated with me after I was accepted. Before getting to know Dr. Toray, I had the impression that professors were too busy to care about individual students; she showed me that, in fact, students are the entire reason that professors are at universities!

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

I think my experience as an FGEN student gave me the belief that I can do things that I haven't done before. I use to be very cautious of trying new things (and still am sometimes!), but now I try to remember that I was able to be successful at something that no one in my family had done before and I can likely be successful at other things. Going to graduate school was one of those things. It was scary and overwhelming, but I had navigated scary and overwhelming before. Even now, 15 years out from my first year of college, I try to hold onto this as I face unknown things - I've done it before, I can probably do it again.

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