First Generation Student Stories
ANA MEDINA ESPINOZA - STUDENT
|CCC has been a stepping block on my way to higher goals and dreams.|
My name is Ana María Espinoza and I immigrated to the United Sates at the age of 5. Neither of my parents made it to high school (8th grade highest education) but they did what they could, to feed us, give us a decent home and put clothes on our backs. I will graduate this May 2021 with an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science. I plan on returning next fall and finishing two more classes for a Mental Health Advocate Certificate. I am a young mother of four and therefore having a local learning center here in Holdrege has given me the opportunity to attend college while still tending to my children. CCC has been a stepping block on my way to higher goals and dreams. Affordable and quality courses are a huge positive! Being a DACA recipient and student is not easy, but CCC has always acknowledged my commitment and has granted me scholarships when qualified (I am not eligible for government, federal nor state scholarships). Every course I have taken through CCC has increased my knowledge! I am one of five children and will be the second child of five to attain a college degree!
SINDY FIENE – STUDENT/STAFF
|One day, before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled into CCC-Lexington and signed up to begin classes in the spring session of 2019 - at the age of 53|
In an odd turn of events, I myself am a first generation student. My Mom married my Dad very young, had my sister and I both before age 20 and neither of them attended college. They divorced when I was very young and my mom re-married a farmer who dropped out of school after the eighth grade. They have had successful lives and provided a great home environment - balancing hard work, reward and making your own future.
My mom began working in the nursing home kitchen after we kids were all out of school. She then went on to get her GED, become a CNA and has been the Activities Director of the same nursing home for 25+ years. She will retire in March at the age of 75.
I married my husband when I was 18 and had premature twins at age 21. My oldest daughter is 33 and her twin only lived 14 months - hospitalized the entire time. My son is 27 and received his bachelor's degree from UNL in Animal Science and my youngest daughter just graduated from BSU with a degree in International Business.
My husband died suddenly from cancer in June of 2014 and after seeing the accomplishments of my mom and children, I decided it wasn't too late for me to attend college! One day, before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled into CCC-Lexington and signed up to begin classes in the spring session of 2019 - at the age of 53. In March I applied for a part-time job at CCC as the Community Education Coordinator after teaching many classes for CCC at my Bed and Breakfast. I graduate in December with my Associates Degree in Hospitality with an estimated GPA of 3.9.
I find it ironic that I followed so closely in my mother's footsteps by having my family first - and young, and then continuing to improve myself. I have been blessed to have her hard work, commitment and tenacity as an example as well as my children who pursued higher education and their passions.
MARIAna RODRIQUEZ - STUDENT
|My instructors have always been very helpful in answering my questions and have been a great support through this journey.|
I started college at Central Community College in Grand Island fall of 2018. I was very nervous starting college because I did not know what it would be like since I was the first to go in my family. College has not always been the easiest for me. I had to figure a lot of things out for myself like filling out the FAFSA and making sure I did that every year to receive financial aid. Because I needed help with that, every year I made sure to schedule an appointment at EducationQuest Foundation to assist me with it. It was hard to have to figure things out for myself when others had their older siblings or parents who already have been through some of the processes. While in college, there were times where I thought I could not do it or keep going. I felt a lot of stress and a lot of pressure because I would be the first to graduate college and I wanted to set an example for my younger siblings. What has helped me in college to this day is having the courage to always email my instructors with numerous questions or meeting with my instructors after class to make sure I understood what was expected of me for the course and assignments. My instructors have always been very helpful in answering my questions and have been a great support through this journey. The biggest lesson I got from college is to never be afraid to go the extra mile to email your instructors with questions because they are willing to help you with anything you need to help you succeed. I graduate this coming December, and I am so excited to see what is in store for me in the future!
SUSAN KLUSMAN - STAFF
|I am glad I stuck with it in the end though, as having the experience I did, has helped me help others navigate the process.|
My experience as a first-generation student honestly was not great when it came to the advising and guidance that I received from the two colleges I attended. I being a driven individual and two individuals that intervened at the right time are what made me finish college. I had planned to go to pharmacy school eventually but knew I need to go a little cheaper route if possible and start at a community college taking general classes first. I had planned to go to SCC in Lincoln and then transfer to UNL and then on to a pharmacy school. To make a long story short SCC lost my initial paperwork, because back in those days you still had to go to campus and physically apply with pen and paper, they lost all of it, my application, my financial aid forms, my transcripts, everything. Luckily, I am the type of person that pays attention to detail and when I hadn’t heard from an advisor by the date they said I would to register for classes, I called them and that’s when they told me they had nothing on me. Lucky for them the person on the phone saved me as a student wanting to attend SCC. She bent over backwards to correct what had happened, she knew by the information I was giving her I had clearly been there and applied. After that things did not get much better, when I did get connected with an advisor, they just handed me a huge catalog and said take classes out of the transfer section. They didn’t guide me in anyway, I don’t think I ever talked to an advisor after that at SCC. I started taking classes my first year and at some point, with talking to others realized I probably needed to talk to an advisor at UNL and they could help guide me. I met with an advisor at UNL and they told me what I would need to do to transfer as a Junior over to UNL and guided me on the series of classes to take. I didn’t have much contact after that initial great appointment with any UNL advisors either, until I was already at UNL. One day not to far into my first semester at UNL, the head of the Women & Gender program contacted me and said do you realize you are only like 6 classes from a major and a minor with our program, and 2 of those classes can count towards both? After a great conversation with her, I got signed up the next semester to start taking those classes and with my pre-pharmacy classes as well. Having contact with her ended up being the greatest things that happened to me because prior to that I had been an undeclared student and taking those classes was going to allow me to earn a BA before transferring to a pharmacy school, which I had not planned nor be guided to try and do. I ultimately did not end up going to pharmacy school due to cost. Those two individuals though kept me on track of staying in college as my experience overall was honestly not that great. Had it not been for the lady on the phone at SCC that day and had it not been for the Women & Gender advisor at UNL, I may have never completed college at that time. I am glad I stuck with it in the end though, as having the experience I did, has helped me help others navigate the process.
BARBARA BECK - FACULTY
|I swore I was never going to go to college like they did. I was going to just work and have fun.|
I grew up in Grand Island. When I was in 8th grade, my dad had a stroke at the age of 42. He was disabled until he died 10 years later. My mom had always been a stay at home mom, so she suddenly had to become the breadwinner, working 2 or 3 part-time jobs. There were lots of hard times, food stamps, and garage sales. My youngest brother was one year old when my dad became unable to work.
I have and older brother and sister, and two younger brothers. The older two were really smart, and being the third child, I was tired of the expectations that I, too, was really smart. My oldest brother went to MIT on a full scholarship, and my sister went to Wayne State College. So after graduating from high school, I swore I was never going to go to college like they did. I was going to just work and have fun.
I worked at a local grocery store for one year, and then it hit me that I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. So I decided to attend Wayne State College. When I first met my advisor, he asked me what my major was. I had NO CLUE. So he asked me what I was good at, and I said taking care of kids. Since my two younger brothers were quite a bit younger than me, I did lots of babysitting with them and with other families. So he put me in as an Elementary Education major. I didn’t know that I could be “undecided”. I also mistakenly enrolled in a class that was a 400 level course for science majors. Let’s just say that my advisor could have been a bit more helpful!! I did squeak through that class, somehow, and made pretty good grades in my other classes. The next year, I transferred to the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, 1000 miles away from home. I ended up being a successful student, and graduating with my teaching certificate.
Thinking back, I often wonder how I knew what to do. My mother had no advice for me because she had never been to college. Back in the 70s, before the internet, you had to stand in line to register for classes. You could be all the way in the back of the line, and by the time you got to the front of the line, you might find out the class was full! But at my second college, my advisor was extremely helpful in guiding me. I also became a Resident Assistant in the dorm for 2 years, which payed my room and board. I held other part time jobs for spending money.
About 12 years later, I started my Master's Degree. Since completing that, I have worked as an advisor/lecturer at UNK, an early childhood specialist at GIPS, and CCC where I've been for 16 years.
Education not only changed my life, it IS my life! Embrace knowledge, become disciplined, and challenge yourself.
KATHY WOITASZEWSKI - FACULTY
|I always thought growing up that I would be a teacher.|
I am child number eight in a farm family of nine children. My parents were eighth-grade graduates who worked hard on the farm to provide for their family. Even though none of my older siblings went to college after high school graduation, I always thought growing up that I would be a teacher. My parents must have known I would be college-bound as I was the child “with her head always in a book.” Through their support, teachers who mentored me, and focus on my studies, I graduated high school as valedictorian of my class. A scholarship to Hastings College led to my degrees in math and physics education, a college experience I will never forget, expressions of parental pride for years, and a long teaching career at CCC.
KATY AYERS - STUDENT
|CCC is a community truly focused on helping students achieve.|
As a first-generation student at Central Community College, I am grateful. The support I have received from countless individuals, from the financial aid department to instructors and club advisors has afforded me with so many opportunities. An advisor directed me to a scholarship program that funded two full years of my education. I proposed the concept of growing a boat from a fungus, and the Environmental Sustainability Office helped me to fund the project. CCC is a community truly focused on helping students achieve. I am so thankful that I began my journey in higher education at CCC because now, I feel fully prepared for the next step in my education.
DR. JERRY WALLACE – ADMINISTRATOR
|Attending college events allowed me to meet new people, get ingrained with the culture and join different groups on campus.|
As a first generation student I struggled with the timing of turning in documents (FAFSA, schedule for upcoming semester), understanding the college culture and stepping outside of my typical crowd of friends. I was quiet, close minded and a little afraid to step outside of my comfort zone in my first year of college.
I was lucky to be a part of the men’s basketball team that made my journey much easier as we had set study times, volunteered on campus and had coaches monitoring our grades and attendance. Attending college events allowed me to meet new people, get ingrained with the culture and join different groups on campus. I begin to bloom socially and serve as a leader for our team introducing incoming freshman to multiple resources on campus (writing centers, tutors, library services and advisors).
My advice for current/future first generation students is to
- Get involved with campus events (intramurals, student organizations, etc)
- Keep an open mind (learn more about people different from you)
- Time management (establish specific study times, use your planner/weekly schedule).
- Get to know your instructor/professor (go to their office hours)
- Ask questions!
MICHELLE LUBKEN – STAFF
|Focusing on small goals allowed me to learn the value of time. I had to learn I could not immediately fix everything, but with small goals I could ultimately set boundaries to reach those goals.|
My name is Michelle Lubken and I was raised by a single parent and was a first-generation college student. This means that neither of my parents completed college.
In high school, I was an honors student. I was active in sports and clubs. I also worked 20-25+ hours a week. I was certain I could handle college coursework. But I did not know what I would study. I was overwhelmed by the stress my family experienced as my brother (one year older) attended college. He knew he would be a doctor or dentist, and he was gifted academically. On the other hand, I had to study double the amount he did to continue to do well. I applied for two scholarships and did not get either. I was conflicted about what to do and really feeling the stress at home and the uncertainty about money.
I focused on getting my high school coursework done and working. I was ignoring deadlines for college applications, opportunities for college visits and options for additional scholarships. This is when my high school counselor stepped in. Mrs. Carol Willoughby sent me a pass for a college visit with Nebraska Wesleyan University. The next day she sent me to detention to complete my resume. The third day she summoned me to her office. She typed up my college application to Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU). She told me to look it over, attach my resume and sign my name; she basically completed my application to college. Why NWU? My older brother was already at NWU. He would get an additional $1000 off if I attended. My parents were familiar with the staff. And, NWU had several programs of study I had indicated interest in previously. My high school counselor felt NWU would help me find my way. Years later I learned Mrs. Carol Willoughby was not going to let me stay in my hometown. She knew I could soar if I could find my way to an environment where I was challenged and guided.
Coursework and networking were on my side. But the steps and paperwork to get a class schedule and to move onto campus – OVERWHELMING! The greatest stressor to getting started was understanding the foreign language of financial aid… UGH! I still remember staring at Jan Duensing in Financial Aid. She was a super nice woman, but the financial things she discussed were all foreign to me. In fact, walking into her office made my head spin. I did not know what a grant was nor the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. She repeated herself, then handed me a piece of paper with words about financial aid on it. Then she did what I feared, she said she needed me to ask my divorced parents for income statements and tax returns. I did not really even know why, but I did know my parents fought enough about money. My stomach ached as she spoke. For the sanity of my family, I wondered if I should wait to attend college, to save money and not involve my parents.
Wendy Waller and Jan Duensing became my college angels. They helped me understand paperwork and college terminology. They helped me contact my parents when sensitive information was needed for me to move forward. They worked to assure my parents that the financial burden would be on me. They then introduced me to others along the way who would be my soundboard on various topics. Completing the first year of college seemed possible thanks to these women.
Thankfully, in high school I had learned how to manage socioeconomic differences between classmates. The reality of having to manage my status appeared again when I pulled into the parking lot. The cars driven by students were more reliable then my parents’ cars, and fellow students were getting allowances for fun in college and were encouraged to not work for their first year. This was not everyone, but it felt like everyone. I wondered often in my first month of college - can I survive here? I hoped my big smile would cover up my anxiety.
The largest hurdle and most difficult to explain came in October 1998. The issue was study time. Memorizing content was no longer going to cut it. I was required to apply course content in a practical way and to reflect on how course topics related to my own reality and current events. I had to research. I had to relearn how to study. I had to study more. This meant I could not work as much as I had anticipated. I could not always afford gas. After two months of college, I had not been back home to see family. The holidays were approaching. Family would call and I would often be studying. I was late on my car insurance. I did not have a major. I still was not definite on what job I would want when I was done with college. Even though I had college prep courses in high school, college classes were harder than I anticipated. I began to wonder, should I stay or should I go home?
I kept my worries inside, but my tone and appearance showed stress. It was my good fortune to meet Matt Kadavy, Director of the Physical Plant at NWU. That’s right - the head of Maintenance and Custodial Services. He gave me a part time job managing the office. After I demonstrated my work ethic, Matt and his staff allowed me to work odd hours. They allowed me to do homework if projects were slow. They took turns getting to know me and nudging me to stick out the stressful times. They taught me how to manage money and do basic maintenance on my car. The maintenance staff became my soundboard on many life topics.
Focusing on small goals allowed me to learn the value of time. I had to learn I could not immediately fix everything, but with small goals I could ultimately set boundaries to reach those goals. Then my goals got bigger and my boundaries got bigger. Soon I was able to see value in studying, missing a few small family gatherings and getting to know mentors outside of my family.
These experiences led me to becoming a college graduate, one who now has a master’s degree and works in higher education as the Associate Dean of Students for Central Community College. The support of college employees, willingness to accept help, and the process of understanding small goals and boundaries led to my success as a college student…and continue to guide my professional accomplishments.
NATASHA GONZALEZ – INSTRUCTOR
|I feel that I am someone who was able achieve something quite uncommon.|
As a young mother with two children, I quickly learned the importance of education. May of 2015 I began work on my Bachelor’s degree. I had learned in one of my classes that only 1.5% of teenage mothers graduate with a 2-year degree before the age of 30. Perhaps one of the things I am most proud of in my life is that I am a first-generation college student, who graduated with a 4-year degree, one week after giving birth to my third child. I feel that I am someone who was able achieve something quite uncommon. I have had a great deal of support throughout my journey and without that support, perhaps I may not have made it this far but my advice to other students, working hard to beat the odds is simple; don’t let the hardships of your life prevent you from becoming all that you can be.
DIRK CHARLSON – FACULTY
|Don’t let the fear of leaving home prevent you from expanding your horizons and seeking out new opportunities.|
I am the first person in my immediate family that earned a 4-year degree. I posses from Iowa State University a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Master of Science in Plant Pathology, and a Ph.D. in Agronomy and Plant Physiology. I began my college career at North Iowa Community College where I earned both an Associates of Arts and Associated of Applied Science and more recently returned to NIACC to earn a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Diploma in Ag Technology. Currently, I hold certification as a Certified Crop Advisor with the American Society of Agronomy with a Precision Agriculture Specialty and FAA Remote Pilot Certification.
My parents regard education as being very important. My Mom earned an Associates of Business from NIACC and my Dad possess many vocational licenses, including Master Electrician and Master Plumbing, as well as certifications in Boiler Operation, HVAC, and other trades. In addition, he possesses a FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate.
My family farms in Northern Iowa and recovered from the Farm Crisis in the 1980’s. Since I grew up during this period, my parents encouraged me to explore my interests and not feel compelled to work on the family farm, since farming was not a lucrative business.
I enrolled at North Iowa Community College immediately after graduating from high school. I wasn’t sure what I was going to study. I decided to take a biology track to explore my interests in paleontology and genetics. For my Composition I course, I wrote a term paper on the Human Genome Project, which was an international collaboration to sequence all of the DNA in humans and identify genes. With more investigation, I decided that someday I wanted to lead my own research team. In order to do this, I would need to earn a Ph.D. So at the age of 19, I decided that graduate school would be in my future.
When I started college, I didn’t really have many financial resources available to me. I worked two part-time jobs and put in over 40 hours a week making minimum wage. I also lived at home with a 2-hour roundtrip commute to NIACC, while being a full-time student. Fortunately, I was able to obtain grants and scholarships, so I graduated with no college debt for my first three years of college.
When I decided to go to Iowa State University in Ames, many challenges faced me. First, I was anxious about leaving home and living by myself in a large city, but I was determined to set aside the fear and keep moving forward with my education. I would make the 1.5 hour drive home every weekend to alleviate some of my home sickness. Second, I had no idea what the path was toward earning a Ph.D. Fortunately, two of my biology instructors at NIACC had graduate degrees from Iowa State, one of which, had a Ph.D.
I was able to secure a summer job working for a Professor in the Plant Pathology Department at Iowa State. Subsequently, I continued working for them until entering a Master’s Program in the same department after graduating with my 4-year degree. My professors at Iowa State guided me on the right path towards achieving my goal. I earned my Ph.D. at the age of 29, 10 years after starting my journey. Eventually, I did lead my own research team at DuPont Pioneer (now called Corteva Agri-science) as a soybean breeder.
Since graduating from Iowa State in 2003, I have lived and worked in 8 states in the Midwest spanning the Canadian Border to the Gulf of Mexico, while living in cities with over 100,000 people. Along the way, I have gained unshakable confidence in myself, both personally and professionally, learned to take adversity in stride, and developed many positive professional and personal relationships.
My advice to any student are first, don’t let the fear of leaving home prevent you from expanding your horizons and seeking out new opportunities, and second, find the mentor or mentors that are living your dream and they will help you navigate the hoops and obstacles necessary to join them.
|I was very grateful that I had the opportunity of higher education that my parents didn’t.|
I grew up around entrepreneurs without even recognizing that this is what my parents were doing – Farming. My mother then branched outside of the farming and started her own small business after working in her industry for many years gaining experience and knowledge to run her small business.
As I look back on their success, it truly amazes me on how successful they were. They were married at 16 and 18 with only Dad having a high school diploma with me coming along a few months later and two brothers adding to our family over the next 3 years.
If they would have had this type of opportunity of education, I can only image how much more successful they would have been. How much of their learning from trial and error could have been alleviated?
I then followed in their footsteps and became a high school dropout during my senior year having a son. I obtained my GED from CCC before my classmates completed their senior year. I worked the fast food industry to make ends meet. From there as a single parent I recognized that education was my key to being able to provide for my son and obtained a business diploma. With this diploma, I worked my way up the ladder through hard work and dedication at all my jobs.
However, with only a business diploma I also lost jobs and promotions because I didn’t have the “right” qualifications. After losing a job because the new corporation mandated a college degree to re-apply for my Corporate Training Manager position, I returned to my hometown roots in Nebraska and enrolled at CCC. After completing my AAS degree I decided that I would move on to the next level and obtained my bachelor’s degree. After completing this degree, I had a strong desire to share my experience and knowledge with others, so I enrolled in a master’s program in management.
After completion I returned to CCC to adjunct in various disciplines as needed. As instructors left, I would take their course loads for 3 semesters which allowed me to gain experience in various disciplines. This in turn allowed me to become a full-time faculty 3 years ago in CCC’s Business Administration and Entrepreneurship program.
During my time in my master’s program, my husband and I started a mechanical welding company building ethanol plants and power houses. This opportunity allowed me to use all the knowledge I had acquired during my higher learning years.
I was very grateful that I had the opportunity of higher education that my parents didn’t. For our company I performed all the executive and administrative tasks of running a business with over 30 employees. This entrepreneurial opportunity was a great learning experience and I learned a wealth of real-life experience from owning the business for 8 years. This invaluable experience has given me great perspective into the business world that I can now share with my students.
|I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t smart.|
My parents started college but didn’t complete. My mom attended CCC-Hastings prior to dropping out. They both had the mentality afterwards, that their children would attend college.
I ended up going to college and went into education. One of the things I wished I utilized more when I was a student was option for tutoring and the writing center. I knew about it but had a little bit of fear of using that service. That first year if I had reached out to the tutors it would have helped me to acclimate to college level writing. I also wasn’t good at math. I was actually terrified to use the tutors. I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t smart. I wish that I would have had those opportunities presented to me a little differently to help overcome that fear and stigma that I had attached to the tutoring. It’s that experience that drives me now to make sure first-generation students know that those types of resources are usually free and are there for. I never felt as a student that I really knew that was the case. In hindsight I wish I would have utilized those resources and opportunities.
One other thing I like to make sure current first-generation students know is that while FAFSA is very different now, I don’t think I totally understood what I was agreeing to. I attended a private 4-year college and didn’t fully realize the amount of money that I would have to pay back until I got out into the real world. I think it’s very important to utilize the financial counseling that the college provides to students as well.