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Stacey Boatright


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

I grew up in a small town and went to a high school that offered little-to-no college or career counseling services. I lost my mother when I was 12 years old and my biological father’s parental rights were suspended when I was an infant so I had no contact with him. As such, I was an orphan or ward-of-the-court from the age of 12 to 18. All of this and being the first in my family to go to college meant I didn't really have anyone to help me navigate the college or scholarship application processes, or the college experience itself. I had to learn and complete every step on my own. By the time I was a high school senior ready to apply and go off to college, I was really good at and accustomed to being independent and self-sufficient. By then, I had learned that I was solely responsible for my decisions and path in life and I was 100% sure that going to college would be essential to my future success. So, I heavily researched colleges, arranged my own campus visits, made a list of the schools I thought would be a good fit for me, and did my best to complete the application processes. I applied for every single scholarship I could find and was eligible for and somehow managed to complete a FAFSA application. I was ecstatic when I found out that I was not only accepted to my top-choice school – the University of Portland – but had been selected as a Ford Scholar and had a full-ride scholarship. Once I got here, I was very comfortable in the role of “student” so I was, fortunately, able to thrive academically. I may not have had family members to ask for help along the way, but the friends I met in college became my family and support system – I relied on them then and continue to do so today.

Are there any unique challenges you faced as a first gen student?

As a first gen student, I had a high degree of determination to succeed and I put a lot of pressure on myself. In high school, I excelled academically and was a leader in student government, clubs, etc. By the time I finished high school, because of my personal experiences, I was used to doing everything on my own and not having anyone to turn to for help. Because I had been so successful in high school and had become so fiercely independent, I was really uncomfortable asking for or admitting that I needed guidance or assistance when I got to college. Rather than reaching-out to faculty or staff at UP for help, I worked extra hard to figure things out for myself and relied on my friends for support.

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

My best advice is to first gen students at UP is to (1) believe in your ability to succeed, (2) be kind to yourself, (3) make friends, and (4) ask for help when you need it! There will be times when you wonder if you will make it through to graduation. There will be times when you are disappointed in yourself for not doing well on an exam or assignment. In these moments, remind yourself that you are capable, and smart, and competent – after all, you were accepted to UP, weren’t you!?! I believe the saying that you will make your very best friends in college is absolutely true. Get involved in activities, go to campus events, form study groups with people in your major and/or classes, and explore Portland – MAKE FRIENDS! Your friends are such a valuable resource when you have questions or face challenges, both during college and after. Lastly, never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Looking back, I really wish I had taken advantage of all the wonderful support services UP has to offer instead of trying to figure everything out on my own.

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

I did not have a mentor in the truest sense of the word, but being a student worker in the School of Nursing (SON) for three years while I was in my undergraduate program was extremely valuable to me. I learned a ton about the inner workings of a university/school/college, acquired many professional and technical skills, and became much more comfortable interacting with faculty and staff across campus. I was inspired by the career paths and scholarly achievements of the faculty and staff I worked with in the SON, which helped me envision what might be possible for me after earning my bachelor’s degree. In a way, the faculty and staff of the SON, collectively, were my mentor!

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

My undergraduate experience not only gave me the strong foundation of professional skills that I needed to launch my career, it taught me how be an adult. Outside of academics, so much of college life is learning how to handle social situations and relationships, manage finances, meet deadlines, set goals, prioritize, hone and define your personal values, etc. My undergraduate career was truly formative and set me up for both personal and professional success. It also fed my desire to continue my education. I earned my Master of Arts degree in Higher Education & Student Services from UP in 2009 and plan to go on to earn my doctoral degree in the future.

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