Determined to succeed: Three first-generation students share their experience at Davenport

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As the first in their families to attend college, first-generation students often face challenges that other students may not be exposed to. Davenport has been able to help these students, who represent almost 40% of its student population, to achieve their education dreams by working to remove many of the barriers they often experience. While the First-Generation Peer Mentor Program offers students a peer mentor to help them navigate their education and major decisions, additional resource programs address financial and emotional challenges. The university has already seen incredible results with our first-generation peer mentoring pilot program, with 91% of participants returning for the second year of college.

Below, three first-generation students share their stories and why they are proud to be a part of the Panther family.

Meet Luz

Luz Parada Martinez
Bachelor of Business Administration, Business ‘22

Born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan, Luz’s parents raised her to know that a college education was possible – something her parents didn’t have the opportunity to do. Since nobody in the family had applied to college before, the application process and completing her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was overwhelming. On top of that, the lack of Spanish resources available made it even harder for her parents to help. Unsure of where to start, Luz sought out help from an admissions rep visiting her high school.

How does it feel to be the first member of your family to attend college?
As the eldest, I am proud to be the first in my family to attend college. While there is a lot of weight on my shoulders to graduate, it also keeps me motivated to do well. I want to make my parents and myself proud — which was one of the main reasons I went to college.

What made you choose Davenport?
I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in business and that Davenport had a great business school. In high school, an admission representative came in and I was able to talk to them and they were super helpful and helped answer all my questions. One of the biggest factors was that I received a scholarship to attend.

What helped you most in your first year of college?
I have always volunteered and was very active in clubs in high school. When I got to Davenport, I knew I wanted to get involved because I like being a part of something bigger. I think that helped me feel connected my freshman year. I joined the student organization ASPIRE, which is a group for women of color. I also participated in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group. Last year, I started the Latinx Student Union (LSU) with the help of some of my friends. One of the main reasons I started LSU was to bring Latinx students together and give us a sense of home here on campus.

I have also really loved Davenport’s first-gen mentoring program, and am grateful for all Dr. Jodi Hicks does to help first-gen students. There weren’t many resources for Latinos when I started college, but now, Davenport is making a huge difference.

What was your biggest fear or challenge coming in as a first-time student?
My biggest fear was that I wasn’t going to fit in and because I lived on campus, I was lonely and missed my family at first. Additionally, I was a little lost during my first few weeks because I wasn’t sure what to expect at college. I got involved on campus and that really helped me find my way.

What do you want first-generation students to know before coming to Davenport?
It’s okay to ask for help. I didn’t know how to do my FAFSA or anything. It is scary and overwhelming, but there is help, just ask! I also suggest first-gen students get familiar with all the resources Davenport offers — like the free mental health counseling, and even where the student life office is located.

 

Meet Patrick

Patrick McMahon
Bachelor of Business Administration, Accounting ‘19
Master of Accountancy ‘21

The youngest of six siblings, Patrick never thought college would be an option. Growing up in Inverness, Illinois, his parents put a great deal of emphasis on the value of education, primarily because neither of his parents were able to attend college. Only his mother completed high school. The financial burden made a degree seem out of reach for Patrick. Thanks to scholarships and a network of support, Patrick will graduate with his Masters this winter.

How does it feel to be the first member of your family to attend college?
Being the first one in my family to attend college is one of my greatest achievements. Not only do I have my bachelor’s, but I will soon also have my master’s. Looking back, I cannot believe how far I have come, especially since going to college didn’t even seem like it would be an option for me. I was also named an Academic All-American for football, and that has been a major accomplishment I am honored to have received.

What made you choose Davenport?
I wanted to play football in college. Additionally, having small class sizes is a major benefit. I got to know my teachers quite well and could come to them anytime I needed help.

What helped you most in your first year of college?
Attending a career fair and seeing the interest employers had for Davenport students. It made me extremely excited for my future career. My end goal is to be happy in a career and have opportunities to advance — and I feel confident my education is going to provide that for me.

What was your biggest fear or challenge coming in as a first-time student?
My biggest challenge my first year was all the free time I had, that I had to plan out. College, more than high school, requires the ability to plan and study on your own. It’s up to you to get your work done on time. Once I figured out a schedule that worked for me, college became so much easier.

What do you want first-generation students to know before coming to Davenport?
Although college can be tough, just sticking with it will be rewarding in itself. I already have a full-time position lined up as soon as I graduate in December. My degree has put me on the fast track to success.

Meet Bryce

Bryce Humphrey
Associate of Applied Science, Networking Technology ‘22
Bachelor of Science, Cyber Defense ‘24

Since Bryce’s parents didn’t go to college, Bryce knew from a young age that college was something she wanted to try.  Originally from Bay City, Michigan, Bryce decided to attend a class to gain cybersecurity training at the Bay Arenac ISD Career Center during her senior year of high school. This is where she found her passion for technology that lead her to Davenport.

How does it feel to be the first member of your family to attend college?
When I was younger, I thought it sounded cool to do a double major. My parents always warned me that would be really hard. Now, here I am today working towards two degrees. I’m proud to be able to attend college and know that someday I will make a good wage at a job I am happy at.

What made you choose Davenport?
Originally, I thought I was going to go to school for chemistry. When I took that cybersecurity class my senior year of high school, I quickly realized I loved the field. With the support of my instructor, family and friends, I decided I wanted to pursue a degree in cyber defense and toured Davenport. I absolutely loved the atmosphere. There were more one-on-one interactions for students, a welcoming environment, the best option for dorms I had seen and it was right on the edge of Grand Rapids.

What helped you most in your first year of college?
My mentor at Davenport was someone who helped me a lot. She would answer my questions about school or simply help me through the trials of being in college and living away from home for the first time. It was extremely helpful to automatically have someone that I could have with an open ear.

What was your biggest fear or challenge coming in as a first-time student?
I was worried about being able to meet people, especially with the addition of COVID. I thought meeting new people was going to be the most difficult task. In reality, everyone is very welcoming and I have met a ton of new people, some of whom have turned into really great friends. Having in-seat classes, going to events, and joining clubs created an easy environment for me to meet new people.

What do you want first-generation students to know before coming to Davenport?
College isn’t as hard as high school teachers make it sound. Coming into college, I expected it to be the hardest thing I had ever done with hours upon hours of homework each night. In reality, I have had less homework in college and more time to do homework than I ever did in high school. Fewer classes are going on, less busy work, and teachers understand that life gets in the way sometimes. So, don’t let the fear of how hard college is, discourage you from going.

Click here to find out more about Davenport’s efforts to support first-generation students.

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