On Monday, Nov. 9, Tyler Junior College will join higher education institutions across the nation in observing the 4th Annual First-Generation College Celebration Day.
The event is sponsored by the Council for Opportunity Education, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Center for First-Generation Student Success.
First-Gen Day encourages campus communities to better understand the systemic barriers plaguing higher education and the supports necessary for first-generation students to be successful.
Many of TJC’s faculty, staff and administrators were first-generation college students themselves, so they understand how earning a degree from an accredited institution can seem insurmountable.
“I was a first-gen student, so I can relate to the emotions that first-gen students face today as they try to enter post-secondary schools,” said Brad Gifford, project director of TRIO programs in TJC Student Support Services. “I too felt overwhelmed, but I was able to be successful because I utilized the resources available. I was able to obtain a graduate-level degree, which has allowed me to break the poverty cycle and provide financial security for my children.”
For Monday’s event, signs will be displayed across the TJC main campus bearing quotes from TJC employees who were first-gen students.
On the signs, some faculty and staff members revealed personal, real-world struggles they overcame by attending college.
“I had a huge desire to break the cycle of poverty and addiction that I experienced as a child,” said Dr. Belinda Prihoda, TJC director of institutional effectiveness and adjunct chemistry professor. “I thought that the only way out was education.”
Carol Hutson, TJC executive director of business services, said, “My biggest victory was completing my degree as a 28-year-old, married student who was 8.5 months pregnant.”
“My motivation for going to college was to make a better life for my children and to build my self-esteem,” said Lisa Wolman, TJC financial aid specialist.
Others offered words of encouragement and advice.
“Be persistent, stay focused, work hard and remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel when you get that degree,” said Jason Waller, TJC professor/department chair of law and public service careers. “It can open so many doors for you.”
Dr. Deana Sheppard, TJC provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, said, “Ask a lot of questions. Stretch yourself and develop as a person as well as a scholar.”
“My advice is to find an advisor you trust and build a relationship with that person, find a mentor in your career field, and build relationships with your classmates,” said Dr. Terry Peterman, TJC associate vice provost for academic and workforce affairs.
TJC President Dr. Juan E. Mejia, also a first-generation college student, said, “I am extremely proud of our faculty and staff, because in addition to being high-achieving scholars and professionals, they truly care for the well-being and success of our students. It is inspiring to witness on a daily basis how engaged our team is, and how leaders emerge from all areas to become personal champions for many students who may need additional guidance and support through this important stage in their lives.”
He continued, “Today, we celebrate everyone who was bold and courageous and the first in their family to attend college, and the many who serve as amazing gamechangers. Let us remain united, as we are truly here to help each other.”