Beating the odds: 3 first-generation graduates share their stories

First-generation graduates, being the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree, deserve all of the credit. For these students, making it to graduation means they beat the odds — it means that not only did they make it through the academic rigor of earning a bachelor’s degree but they also successfully handled the unique challenges and stressors that have prevented many first-generation students from achieving their full academic potential. Here are the stories of three first-generation graduates that we’re incredibly proud to call Davenport University alumni.

Jessica Giddings

Bachelor of Business Administration, Accounting ‘19
Master of Accountancy ‘21
Staff Accountant, Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors

Jessica Giddings grew up in Greenville, MI. Her dad is a maintenance mechanic and her mom, a homemaker. Jessica wasn’t pressured to attend college, but she was driven to earn a degree for herself.

“I made plenty of mistakes and didn’t take the typical path of high school graduates, so earning a degree made me feel like I was on track for success,” she said.

During her junior year of high school, Jessica had taken an accounting class and she felt strongly it was the career for her. After being offered the opportunity to join a mid-sized certified public accountancy (CPA) firm, Jessica knew she was on the path to her dream career. She applied to Davenport because many of the accountants at her firm had attended the university and were successful.

“With the flexibility of Davenport’s online programs and the success rate of their students, I knew it would be the perfect school for me — as a wife, mom and full-time employee .”

After being accepted at Davenport, Jessica received a scholarship from the state of Michigan and a scholarship through her employer.

“Graduating with my degree has given me more self-confidence in my everyday life and has allowed for more responsibility at work and more trust from coworkers and shareholders.”

Now, Jessica is a staff accountant in the Specialized Accounting Services Department at Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors. The majority of her time is focused on helping business clients with their payroll needs.

“My degree makes me more valuable to the firm I’m with and that stability is priceless — stability in the household can potentially set up my kids for the same success.”

Jessica’s advice to other first-generation students?
“Do it and don’t hesitate — young or old, you can do this! Show others that dedication and determination will get you where you want to be in life. No matter what hurdles you’ve jumped over, and continue to jump over, make a college degree one of them — you won’t be disappointed in the outcome.”


Christopher Velazquez

Bachelor of Science, Nursing ‘19
Registered Nurse, Spectrum Health Meijer Heart Center

Christopher Velazquez grew up in Anaheim, CA. His mom is a veterinary technician. After growing up in a tough living situation, Christopher was determined to provide for his family someday. He wanted them to have a better life because he knew what it was like to not have much.

After graduating from high school, Christopher started college in Anaheim. He chose to major in nursing because of his strong desire to help people. He also saw the profession as an opportunity to grow as a man and a professional.

Christopher decided to move to Michigan to be closer to his girlfriend, now his wife.

“When I began looking at colleges in Michigan, Davenport caught my eye,” he said. “The nursing program looked challenging but was exactly what I needed.”

After getting accepted, Christopher received Davenport’s Community Leader and Titanium Scholarships as well as a federal grant. With this support, he was encouraged to keep moving forward and felt confident he could succeed financially while he finished his degree.

Now, Christopher is a registered nurse at Spectrum Health’s Meijer Heart Center on the congestive heart failure floor. With a daughter due in April, he can already see the impact his graduation will have on his family’s lives. Now, he has stability, confidence and a desire to continue learning.

Christopher’s advice to other first-generation students?
“Work hard because it’s definitely worth the effort. Always be willing to ask for help where needed and be proactive in your learning.”


Lisa Miller

Diploma, Practical Nursing ‘12
Bachelor of Science, Nursing ‘19
ABA Therapist, Centria Autism

Lisa Miller grew up in Detroit. Her father was blind and owned several stores in Saginaw and Detroit. Her mother worked at Yellow Pages and Ameritech.

Earning a degree was important to Lisa because she wanted more in life. She wanted a better lifestyle for her children. And she wanted to prove to herself that she could graduate from college, despite the many obstacles she faced.

Lisa dreamed of being a nurse since eighth grade after a classmate’s mom attended career day dressed as Florence Nightingale — the woman credited for modernizing the nursing profession. When her classmate’s mom explained what she did for a living, Lisa knew nursing could be a future for her.

Lisa first attended the Detroit College of Business — before it became Davenport University. After the college transitioned to Davenport, Lisa saw the new medical programs available to her and decided to apply.

She was accepted into Davenport’s licensed practical nursing (LPN) program. After meeting with the financial aid department, Lisa was able to fund her education.

“Graduating has changed my life in the most respectable way,” she said. “Having a degree gives you more options. And, my patience and discipline have matured greatly.”

Now, Lisa works with autistic children at Centria Autism and is working to earn her license to become a registered nurse.

Lisa’s advice to other first-generation students?
“Don’t just think about it, do it! I’ve been working to finish school since 1991 because of the obstacles I have faced in life but my perseverance and determination guided me to the finish line. Having a degree is a life-changer in the most positive way.”

Act now
Listen to these inspiring words from these first-generation students and take the first step by applying today at


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