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Finding Empowerment as a First-Generation Student

By Kaylee Wilson


November 10, 2022

Guest blogger Kaylee Wilson, a third-year sociology and global public health double major, shares her experience as a first-generation college student at Drexel.

This article originally appeared on the Drexel Undergraduate Admissions blog

I am the first person in my family to go to college. From an early age, the sentiment at home was that I was going to be the one that broke the generational curse and finally got a degree. There was always pressure to get straight A's and participate as much as I could because I needed to earn scholarships in order to afford the cost of going to college. On top of that, I was helping provide for my family by helping take care of my sisters and working a part-time job.

All of that hard work paid off when I got to see my family's excitement when I announced that I would be attending Drexel University. While they were endlessly supportive, it was only limited to well wishes and sending good luck. None of my family members knew what I would encounter once I was able to move onto campus and start classes.

When I got to campus that fall, I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what to expect from my classes or where I could go for help. Nobody had told me beforehand how different college and high school really are, and I found myself feeling lost. I battled imposter syndrome daily, constantly having to reconvince myself that I belonged here. I pushed through these feelings with the help of my friends and family, but still, none of them could fully understand what I was going through.

When I started my first co-op at Drexel's Center for Inclusive Education and Scholarship (CIES), I again had no idea what to expect. The first day of any new job is extremely nerve-wracking. When my supervisor introduced the Center's work to me that first day, I suddenly felt like I had found more than a job, but a community. CIES provides academic support to first-generation students and students of color on Drexel's campus. During my co-op, I had the privilege of helping run workshops on topics like how to overcome imposter syndrome, how to manage your time as a college student, and self-advocacy. While I was helping facilitate these discussions, I found that it was also all very important information that I really, really needed to hear.

By the end of it all, I no longer felt alone and ashamed of being a first-generation college student, but instead empowered.

I know that we always think about co-op as just an opportunity to make connections, get work experience, and get practical experience. My co-op at CIES was all of that, but it was also the first place on campus where I met other proud first-generation students and discovered the first-gen community that exists on our campus. I've been able to join First Forward and Dragons First, two organizations on campus that work to connect and empower first-generation students and get involved in their work. Through all of this, I have learned to look at being first-generation as an asset. I've gotten to share my journey and talk about the value that being a first-generation student provides with incoming and prospective Drexel students.

Moving forward, I hope to continue to be vocal about my experience as a first-generation college student at Drexel to hopefully empower other students who come to campus feeling just as scared and lost as I did.