Being a first generation Mexican-American male, I had a tough upbringing. My father, being an immigrant with little to no english in his vocabulary, would always take me to his weekend side jobs after working a grueling 60, 70, or even up to 80 hour work week. It was tough for him. During these weekends, my childish mind would think that the couple hours I was enduring were the worst thing to have ever happen to me. My father, addressing the elephant in the room, saw that I was tired and said “If you don’t do good in school this is what your life will look like in the future.” As the years passed, I grew older and realized he was right. The summer after 9th grade, I took up the same 60-70 hour work weeks of construction he used to go through. Surprisingly, the following school year, my grades were the most perfect they had ever been. While I kept my momentum up until graduation I saw others lose theirs. It was a sad thing to watch because they were people I grew up with. It was a lonely but plentiful journey to Virginia Tech. Now that I’m here, all I can do is make my people proud and eventually give back to the people that helped me get here.
Everyone wants success. Are you willing to put everything beyond your limit for it? Spend extra hours and lose sleep for it? Sweat, time, and tears sacrificed to achieve anything you want to accomplish. Your best motivation is yourself, put yourself first and get to the grind. This picture illustrates sweat and fatigued sacrificed to get better working as hard as possible.
I am a first generation college student as well as a Hokie transfer. The college process, and even working up enough courage to transfer as a junior, has been a rocky road for me. However, I feel so empowered from doing the unthinkable that I truly feel unstoppable sometimes. There are obstacles that I have and will continue to face as it relates to both of these identities. Although, when I think of breaking my generational cycle, it lights a fire within me to do what people say is the impossible, because I know it is not. Since I am succeeding, I feel as if I aim as high as I can because I know society puts restrictions to instill fear in people of doing things that may break the norms. Transferring to Virginia Tech as a junior in college has been one of the best decisions I have ever made as I found my academic passions and lifelong friends here. To me, that also destroys the notion that you are ‘too old’ to do something, because time is simply a social construct.
My name is Brittney Looney and I am a first generation college student at Virginia Tech. I started my education at Southwest Virginia Community College where I graduated with two different associates degrees: Education and General Studies. This year I transferred to Virginia Tech as a junior and am majoring in English. Although COVID-19 has altered some of the traditions of being at a 4-year, I am still enjoying my time here at VT and am so excited for my future as a Hokie!
Being the first person in my family to attend college, has been a life-changing experience. Along the way, I’ve had to figure a lot of things about college life on my own. Like a lamp, it was my responsibility to light the way for a path that was once undiscovered. I didn’t take on the First Generation identity until I got to Virginia Tech because I didn’t realize how important it was. Not only is that identity important to me, but it is also important for my siblings who should be proud of walking down a path that we all collectively paved.
All through my childhood I knew I wanted to be a biologist and that I wanted to travel the world. My family lived in upstate NY and then a rural area in northern Pennsylvania as I was growing up. I rarely even met a research biologist most of those years and my globe-trotting was done through books. When I visited Cornell University during high school, I was amazed by its vastness and the amazing science being done there. I quickly decided that this was where I wanted to be. Fortunately, my parents were very supportive, although neither went to college. Going to a big university like that was unusual for students at my small high school—one counselor even encouraged me to stop applying and told me that “our students don’t go to those places”. I wound up being accepted and went to Cornell, which was a 90 minute drive away but a whole different world.
College was a hard transition with some lecture classes having the same number of students as my high school! Meeting friends and finding my place on campus was really hard. It took years honestly. I rarely met other students who had similar backgrounds to me. There were far more lawyers’ kids from New York City on my dorm floor than there were truck driver’s kids from rural Appalachia.
Once I was settled into a comfortable place with good friends and a new fascination studying botany, college was a lot of fun. Life developed well from there, with a lot of my college connections helping me down the road. I started working in a botany lab at Duke University after graduation and was able to travel to Austria and Malaysia to collect plants! Later, I moved to Alaska to earn my PhD and was able to visit Australia, China, and Russia for my studies!
These days I’m more focused on raising my active little kids than traveling but I love being here at VT. Being able to work with the students here and study our local flora has been a wonderful experience.
I grew up in Southwestern Virginia, so it’s a bit ironic that the first time I felt out-of-place was right here at VT when I attended my freshman orientation. I distinctly remember the orientation leader asking us to introduce someone we had just met to the rest of the group and I volunteered to go first. Immediately when I began talking, the orientation leader started laughing and tried to mimic my southern accent, dramatically over-emphasizing the words I had just said. The group laughed with her and I shrunk back, embarrassed and hurt. Her actions made me question my identity and if I belonged here for quite some time. I didn’t feel that I anyone to share this with because, although my parents were fully supportive of me, I didn’t want them to know that I was critically analyzing the place I was from and how I sounded because I didn’t want to hurt them. Now that I have returned to my alma mater, I want to insure that the students I work with, especially those who are first in their family to attend college like me, fully embrace who they are, where they are from, and the entirety of their lived experience. I also want to educate other faculty, staff, and administrators so they are active allies, too.
I’m currently in my third year at Virginia Tech as a transfer student from New River Community College, studying Biological Sciences. I graduated from New River with an Associates degree in Science, as well as with high honors. I have high hopes in earning my Bachelors at Virginia Tech in biology as well as moving on to grad school to earn a Master degree. My dreams and goals are limitless with the opportunity of being a student at such a fine university as Virginia Tech. I’d had dreams of being a Hokie since I was in kindergarten and I couldn’t be more proud to have conquered them as a first generation college student.
"I grew up on a crop and livestock farm in North Central Indiana in the 1960s and 70s. My father had a high school education and my mother was a nurse (no degree required in those days). My paternal grandfather had an 8th-grade education. Only one of my 14 aunts and uncles had a college degree. Fortune was on my side, however. My mother, when she was four (the last of eight siblings and born in the middle of the great depression), was legally adopted by her uncle and his wife. Her adopted mother came from a farm family that believed firmly in education, including education for both the males and females--her adopted mother was a school teacher and had been to college. This was exceedingly rare in rural Indiana in the early 1900s. And while my mother never went to college per se, she carried with her the insistence instilled in her by her adopted mother that my brother and I would go to college. Small things, very small things, can and do matter, and can impact a family's trajectory for generations to come.
I did not go to college right out of high school and instead worked on the family farm, in a factory, and at other odd jobs. I eventually found my way to Purdue, where I thought I would get an Associate's degree. The first semester there was one of the biggest transformations of my life. I did not know how to study, and I completely lacked discipline and focus. After failing nearly all of the first round of midterm exams, I went home for the weekend vowing to ""drop out."" I recall like yesterday talking with my grandfather (the same one with an 8th-grade education) that weekend, who asked me how hard I was studying. When I fessed up and told him, ""Not so much,"" he said, ""Maybe you ought to get back there and give it an honest try before being a quitter."" I took that advice to heart and decided that, maybe, I could treat studying a little more like a job, that is, I should dedicate six-to-eight hours a day to it. The rest is history. Somewhere along the way, I realized I did have potential, and I fell in love with learning. It has been my life and career since then.
There is more. During my time at Purdue, I was fortunate to encounter an array of caring instructors and academic advisors that worked so much with me during my time at Purdue, and especially those first few years. They had incredible patience with me and, in looking back, spent an enormous amount of time working with me. They were, in essence, the embodiment of the Land Grant mission. They had confidence in me and recognized something in me before I did. I owe them everything, and I am in no position to ever repay them directly in this lifetime. What I can try and do, however, is pay it forward. What I owe them I can maybe give to others today. It is my mission now. Can I do even small things that might help make an opening or an opportunity for some struggling, lonely student? That is, doors I can help open for some possibly sad, lonely, lost, or frustrated student who does not otherwise know how to find a niche at Virginia Tech? If so, then I will have done a little something to pay down the debt I owe. I am on a mission. It is the Land Grant mission writ large. It is, in the final analysis, why I am here and why we are here.
To paraphrase Carl Sagan, ""Higher education is a candle in the dark."" And maybe the only true candle humanity has ever found. Let that light shine!"
I am an 19 year old first generation college student. I grew up in an interracial family. My mother is white and my father is Indigenous and African American. Neither of my parents went to college and my dad didn’t complete High school. My parents stressed the importance of an education since I was very small. I’ve always loved school and taken pride in my academics. I am determined to make my parents proud and proud to call myself a Hokie!
My name is Nicole and I am Guatemalan. A few months after I was born, my parents separated and I was brought to the United States with my mother and grandmother to start a new life. Since then, I have lived in Virginia for most of my life as well as California and New Mexico. My mother worked as a newspaper carrier on a small bike she owned. She would come home late most of the days in the week so I was left under the care of my grandmother. During the fall, we would go leave picking on the way to my preschool in Burke, Virginia. She would drop me off and I was always end up crying. As I grew older, I noticed we were considered a minority in this country. There would be times where my mother couldn’t provide for dinner and we had to eat cereal. We went from basement to basement until she saved up enough to rent an apartment. As I grew older, my relationship with my mother and grandmother only grew. I graduated high school with an advanced diploma and went on to pursue a career in Engineering here at Virginia Tech on a scholarship. I hope my personal narrative inspires other young latinos to continue their fight for a secondary education.
My father left our family when I was in middle school. I dropped out of high school, completed a GED program and then attended a vocational mortuary school in Atlanta, GA (Gupton Jones). Qualifying for a full Pell grant helped me to pay for the program. After passing national and state exams, and completing an internship, I became a licensed funeral director and earned a decent salary. However, the hours were long and the job was rough. I had always wanted to attend a ‘real’ college so I took some community college classes and was able to transfer into Virginia Tech where I received a BA in communication studies and graduated Phi Beta Kappa (2000). Later, I was accepted into Georgia Tech and earned a MS degree in computer science (2018). My advice to other first generation students is to hang in there. You can do it. Ask for help if you are struggling. Virginia Tech is a very kind, generous and accepting place with a lot of great resources.
Everything I do is for my parents. They came to a country where they had no one to ensure that my sisters and I would have a life they couldn’t with better opportunities. I am where I am today because of my parents and their sacrifices pushes me to achieve the goals I have set for myself.
The sheer amount of cancelled visas, multiple entry visas, intermediate stamps between here and India and bureaucracy that my family had to go through so we could all exist in the same country as legal permanent residents is immense to say the least. Had I stayed behind in India as was originally planned until the age of 9 I would have had a much different outcome and may not be in America today, let alone a college student in America. Honestly all I know is my life would have had much more chaos and struggle had I stayed behind after I was born in the US. My identity as someone who is a 1st gen college student here is connected with my family’s identity as an immigrant family and as someone who knows where my family comes from up close.
My parents wanted me to pursue a STEM degree because they thought college was all about making money and that STEM was profitable. They never had much money and wanted me to have a better financial life. The experience in my residential college program showed me that college was about more than getting a piece of paper in hopes of landing a high salary job. I changed my major to the humanities because I was interested in writing and exploring the nature of human and nonhuman animal life through writing, literature, and film. My parents were proud of my decision. Today I help students explore those age-old questions about the meaning of life through writing and rhetorics.