First-Generation Students

First-Generation College Stories

The National First-Generation College Celebration takes place each year on November 8, the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, to acknowledge and celebrate the success of first generation college students past and present. We have invited UW alumni who identify as first-generation college graduates to share their own stories about their college experiences: their motivations and support systems, triumphs and lessons learned. Read on to hear what being a First-Gen college grad means to each of them!

(Are you a first-generation college student alum? You can share your story too!)

Jump to last names beginning with: [A-F]  [G-L]  [M-S]  [T-Z]

Patrick Anthony, ‘10

Being a First Generation College Student means that I am the legacy that my posterity will look to as they carry our family name forward.

“I am the legacy that my posterity will look to…”
–Patrick, ‘10

Constance Busigin (Nelson) Bean, ‘57

I was one of those lucky young ladies who was able to graduate from the University of Washington in 1957. I attended Roosevelt High School in Seattle, and this again was such a positive for my ability to continue to college. The expectation was that I would attend college even though the odds of this happening were very slim.

My father was an orphaned Russian immigrant. He arrived in Seattle on the S.S. President Jackson from Yokohama, Japan in 1923. He was 13 years old and had two brothers, one 15 and one 11. They arrived with no money, no English language, and no family to greet them. Their parents were killed in the 1923 earthquake in Yokohama as the family was awaiting passage to the United States. The family was from Elabuga, on the Volga, and they crossed Siberia on the railroad to Harbin, China and then eventually on to Japan. My grandfather had been in the United States and he know this is where he wanted to take his family as the revolution began in Russia in 1915… 

The three boys were sent to a truck farm in Issaquah and worked for return of board and room. When the oldest brother had enough English, he moved into Seattle, worked, and then brought his brothers to live with him. All had very little schooling, but my father graduated from Broadway High School in Seattle. He had mostly failing grades with the language issues, but top grades in all his math classes. He worked as a janitor when I was young and eventually became a woodworking machine salesman — much beloved by his customers. He had a charming personality and loved people. He also understood the importance of education. He often told me that if I ever wanted to live differently from the way we were living, I needed an education and a profession to take me through the bumps of life. He also shared, he never wanted to hear that I got into trouble at school and if he did, it would be double trouble for me when I got home. I was the oldest of two girls and expectations were high.

Fortunately, I loved school and thrived in the environment of high school and with my friends who were all intending on college. I quickly fell into the mode that yes — I would be going to college. My maternal grandmother was very supportive of my goals and was able to be of some help financially when I made the choice to attend WSC, in those days in Pullman, WA. Leaving home was very alluring to me and with some other close girlfriends we headed for WSC, but it was an expensive cost for my family and after two years, I made the choice to apply to the University of Washington. I could live at home, work, and go to school. Such a wise decision this was. I was still unsure what profession I would pursue — education, nursing and/or sociology were acceptable choices for women in those early days. I knew I did not wish to work nights or weekends as a nurse. My parents did not understand what sociology was and as I had not unusual talent, education was the choice. What a wise choice this was!

When the decision was made with the guidance of a most helpful counselor, we decided that being an elementary teacher would work well for me with my skills, personality and interest. I was so lucky to have had the best professors, and eventually Miss MacDonals who guided me in my student teaching experience. She was amazing. I cannot believe how, with the number of students she supervised, she made each connection so personal. It was so important to her that we succeeded. She was very tough on her rules, expecting nothing but the best effort on our part. But we learned, we thrived, and I felt prepared when I accepted my first teaching job at Edmonds Elementary School, third grade, in Edmonds, WA. I also taught in Bellvue, WA; for many years in Wenatchee, WA; and as an elementary principal in Sedro-Woolley. I ended up supervising student teachers for Washington State University in Wenatchee. How proud my parents were of me when they attended my graduation in June of 1957. My father would from then on introduce me as his daughter, the teacher. He would beam with pride. I would continue to teach and work in education for 25-30 years.

What continues to make this story so special is that my father’s oldest brother died at 21 and never married or had children. His younger brother also did not have a child that attended college and my dear younger sister found other avenues that gave her happiness. I credit my life’s journey with the support of family, friends, the excellent high school education I had in those years at Roosevelt High School and the counseling, support, and caring supervision I experienced at the University of Washington. I was motivated to succeed, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity I had. I have had a marvelous life, one I could hardly imagine when I was a young girl, living in an immigrant family of limited income and few options available to live the good life. Yes — education was my ticket for all that I enjoy today at age 87. Thank you, University of Washington! (I have three children who are all graduates of WSU — Cougars! Also, all my grandchildren have college degrees.)

“My father would from then on introduce me as his daughter, the teacher. He would beam with pride.”

—Connie, ’57

Tom Bennett, ’67

I am fortunate to be a first-generation college student. In 1859 my ancestor left Germany to avoid doing military service for the Kaiser. He came to the United States in time to be in our Civil War. After surviving two major battles, he got dysentery and deserted, going to Iowa which at that time, was considered the far west. My parents were born in the World War I era; my brothers and I during World War II. My father and his siblings served in both the European and Pacific theaters of WWII as enlisted men. During the Viet Nam conflict, my brother Curtis, an officer and jet fighter pilot, flew 200 missions, 80 of them over North Viet Nam.

As high school kids, we played pickup football games in empty lots. The guy across the street noticed one of the big kids bullying and hurting smaller ones. Since the man across the street was short and looked meek and mild, we invited him to join the game. He was hard on the bully, and repeatedly put the bully face down in the dirt. The quiet man, it turned out, played football at the local college… 

I was aware of the local college because it was located across the street from my high school. I went out for high school football, and my junior year annual contains this on page 111. One bright spot for fans was a spectacular 103 yard punt by kicking ace, Tom Bennett. Astounded spectators watched Bennett’s booming kick travel from end zone to end zone. It was the longest punt ever kicked by an East High player.

After graduation from high school, I moved to southern California and lived with my aunt Ruth, an elementary school principal. She motivated me to go to college. I attended Long Beach City College, which now has 24,000 students. I played football there, and that resulted in UCLA offered me a football scholarship.

I would advise myself to get as much college education as possible, which I did:

  • Long Beach City College: Associate’s Degree
  • UCLA: Bachelor’s Degree
  • University of Washington: Master’s Degree
  • Washington State University: Doctor of Philosophy Degree

“I am fortunate to be a first-generation college student.”Tom, ’67

Tracy Bergemann, ‘04

Being a First Gen college student was a huge source of pride for my family. I was not only the first person in my family to graduate from college, but also the first to obtain my PhD. I grew up in a blue collar background where education was not valued as much, but my father pushed me to get an education and I really enjoyed reading and learning.

I had to work three jobs through my undergraduate years to pay for school and had earned a full tuition scholarship…

In graduate school, I had a research assistantship to support me financially. I grew up economically challenged and knew how to survive with very little money.

While in graduate school at UW, I found that there was very little support or understanding for First Gen students. Most of my colleagues had graduated from the Ivy League or prominent schools and came from middle or upper middle class backgrounds. There was subtle mocking of my poverty and stark differences in our backgrounds that were not treated with compassion. It felt lonely and isolating. Most professors were not sympathetic to these challenges.

Nevertheless, I persisted, survived and went on to a flourishing career. My advice is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other day by day, and find your allies where you can. There may not be very many allies out there, but there are some and they will help you to move forward.

“My advice is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other day by day, and find your allies where you can.” –Tracy, ‘04

Leslie Betz, ‘09

Being a First Generation college student meant a lot of things to me. The huge responsibility to represent not only my family, but myself! There were no guideposts! And it was the chance to encounter new ideas and perspectives that I still consider priceless to this day. It meant professors guiding me not just through learning the material, but learning how to learn! It meant critical thinking and challenging presuppositions.

As for motivation, it was initially my parents, coupled with my sense of adventure and a desire to get out of the countryside…

I had big dreams of being surrounded by different people and continuing my education, but I had a near-falling out with my parents over whether I would continue. Just before my second year started, my father got a new job and suddenly our financial system changed: according to the rules, we could now, somehow, afford my education.

I debated taking time off to really think deeply about what I wanted to do with my life, as the financial burden was overwhelming, but it was ultimately my mother who encouraged me to continue and took a lot of the burden on herself. She told me with what looked like flames in her eyes that I was going to college no matter what.

Honestly, the best thing about my college experience was what I expected: a combination of meeting people from all over the world and seeing from their perspectives. It further solidified my goals, my values and who I am today.

When I needed support with paperwork, I turned to my mother, but when I needed emotional support, I turned to my bestie and roommate. We couldn’t offer each other answers, but we could offer support, and there were many days where one of us would wrap the other in blankets, bring them something warm to drink, and listen to their troubles.

If I had the chance to give my college self any advice, I would tell her to go out there and not be afraid. And that, yes, one day, she would end up in Japan.

“When I needed emotional support, I turned to my bestie and roommate. We couldn’t offer each other answers, but we could offer support.” –Leslie, ‘09

Julie Campos, ’16, ’18

Being the first in my family to attend college and graduate with a degree was a huge accomplishment for me and my family. I am so grateful for all the opportunities UW offered me as a student. I loved my experience so much that I returned to obtain my master’s degree at UW. Due to my education, I have obtained social mobility and continue to grow as a young professional.

As a first generation college student, attending college can be scary but just know there are so many other students feeling the same way. Identifying as first-gen is a beautiful asset both academically and professionally. Don’t ever doubt what you can do just because you are first-gen. There is a community of us rooting for you!

“Don’t ever doubt what you can do… There is a community of us rooting for you!” Julie, ’16, ’18

Leo Carmona, ‘16

I was born and raised in Sola de Vega, Oaxaca, Mexico until I was 10 years old. I completed my K-12 education in Everett, Washington. I come from an immigrant family where higher education was not part of the conversation, so going to college was not something I aspired to.

As an undocumented student with limited financial resources and college literacy, I did not contemplate college as a possibility until my senior year, thanks to incredible mentors. By the time I initiated the process of applying for scholarships, I had missed most admission deadlines for four-year universities, except for UW Bothell, where I had been accepted…

I opted for community college first and received an associate degree from Everett Community College before transferring to the UW. It was the right decision for me as it was not only significantly more affordable, but it gave me time to prepare myself academically and have a better idea of where I wanted to go next.

I’d describe my experience as transformative because everything was completely new to me — from living in a big city like Seattle, to navigating new spaces that had never been available to me, to dealing with the adversities but also the opportunities of being a college student at an institution like the University of Washington. I think that my experience as a first-gen really gave me an awareness of and empathy for the world around me that is reflected across all areas of my work. Since my college days, the concepts of social justice, cultural identity, diversity, and inclusion became fundamental aspects of how I approach my personal and professional life — from the stories I want/need to share, the communities I want to make an impact on, to voicing my ideas and concerns on practices that will improve the experiences and outcomes for all students, staff and faculty.

Being a first-generation college graduate means I get to be part of a group that is changing history. Being a first-generation college graduate is not solely about attaining a higher education degree and pursuing our own professional goals, it impacts many other aspects of our lives from access to different economic and network opportunities, to increased civic engagement, to fundamentally changing our outlook in life. Which translates to having the tools and possibilities to build different (hopefully healthier and more sustainable) kinds of relationships with our families, our finances, and our civic duties that can transcend generations.

If you feel uncomfortable, you’re doing something right. We evolve as much as we allow ourselves to, so I encourage first-generation students to situate yourself in new spaces that stretch your own understanding of yourself and allow for you to find out more of who you are and what you’re capable of. And if you make others uncomfortable, even better because then you’re having the world grow with you. It’s good to have a home base, a safe space where you can return to ground yourself — perhaps a place or a person that will remind you who you are at core, and where you come from. But remember you don’t know what you don’t know, so mess around and find out.

“We evolve as much as we allow ourselves to… Situate yourself in new spaces that stretch your own understanding of yourself.” Leo, ’16

Joe M. Davis II, ’16

Everyone has a unique Husky experience, and mine is no different. When I was growing up, higher education was not a topic discussed in my household. I joined the military at the age of 18, young and impressionable. My first duty station was Fort Lewis, Washington, and I thought I knew everything, but in fact knew nothing at all.

One day, my platoon sergeant instructed me to go to the education center and enroll in college. He explained one of the benefits of serving your country is access to tuition assistance. As a young Black man in the Army, I didn’t think I had much choice, so I enrolled in Pierce College, located 30 miles south of Seattle…

Soon after, I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this break from higher education, I knew that attending the University of Washington was my goal and I looked at ways to make that dream a reality. I finished my first two years at Pierce College and because of the long-standing transfer student pathway to Washington’s four-year colleges and universities, I successfully applied to UW Tacoma (UWT) and completed my undergraduate studies.

UWT was the perfect fit for me. As the board president of a local nonprofit in Tacoma, I had worked with UWT alums and was impressed with their ties to the community. UWT is one of the region’s leading institutions for military veterans, first-generation and transfer students. And with a student to faculty ratio of 16 to 1, my academic and extracurricular experiences were second to none. The relationships I made with faculty and fellow students remain as strong as ever. As I reflect on my own experiences, I encourage you to reminisce and share with others the stories that made your Husky experience meaningful.

A deep commitment to public service is a core value of our alumni association board leadership. Since graduating from UWT in 2016, I’ve served as a full-time law enforcement officer in Snohomish County and criminal investigator for the U.S. Army. My story, like so many others across our three campuses, reflects the diversity and life experiences of our students and alumni, each of whom contributes to UW’s rich tradition and impact.

UW President Ana Mari Cauce often encourages non-traditional routes to public higher education. I’m a living example of those paths less traveled: a Black veteran, first-generation, transfer student, and UWT graduate. I speak from personal experience when I say: Everyone belongs here. Go Huskies!

“I speak from personal experience when I say: Everyone belongs here.” — Joe, ’16

Sandra Gifford Goldade, ’71

My maternal grandparents were born in Italy. My grandfather died when he was 44, leaving my grandmother with 5 kids (and one on the way) to raise alone. Life was hard for my mom and college was not an option. My paternal grandparents moved to Seattle from Wisconsin in the early 1930’s, with stops in Spokane and Yakima. There were 10 children. My grandmother passed away when the two youngest were toddlers. My dad was a WWII veteran and did attend the UW for a few quarters, but quit to raise his family of three children.

Doing well in school was expected, but not talked about. I don’t remember college being discussed much when I was growing up, but for some reason I always assumed I would go…

I entered the UW in fall of ’66; flunked out; went to Highline Community College; got re-admitted to the UW and graduated in ’71 with a BA in Mathematics. With 10 kids, there were a lot of cousins, but I was the first to graduate from college. Several of my younger cousins have since graduated and many have told me I was an inspiration for them to go on to higher education.

When I went to the UW, one could work a part-time job and afford tuition and books. Not so easy today. Way too many kids have to take on large loan amounts to attend college. The legislature needs to do a better job of funding higher education.

Go Dawgs!

“Several of my younger cousins have since graduated and many have told me I was an inspiration for them to go on to higher education.” — Sandra, ’71

Jose (Danny) Gonzalez, ‘15

Being a first-generation college student holds profound meaning for me. It represents not only the opportunity and privilege to pursue my dreams but also the fulfillment of the dreams my parents had for me.

Growing up in a financially-challenged environment, I was never able to experience the true potential of an education. I did, however, witness the immense sacrifices and unwavering dedication my parents made to ensure my success. Their hard work and determination became my driving force. The pressure to fulfill their hopes and aspirations motivated me to persevere, never giving up on my dreams. I knew that obtaining a college education was not only a personal achievement but also a way to honor their sacrifices.

My college experience at the University of Washington was transformative in countless ways…

The education I received was undoubtedly the most significant aspect. The knowledge and skills I acquired opened doors to new possibilities and unleashed my potential. The UW provided me with a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment that fostered personal and academic growth.

However, the connections I made during my time at the University of Washington were equally invaluable. I met my wife during my college years, and our shared journey through education created a deep bond. Moreover, I formed connections with numerous influential individuals who have, and still do, play a significant role in shaping me. The UW served as a hub of diverse perspectives, and these connections continue to inspire and support me on my journey.

When faced with challenges and in need of support, my family has always been my anchor. Not solely limited to my blood relatives, but also the family I have found within the college community and beyond.

As a first-generation college graduate from the University of Washington, I am immensely grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded. I carry the dreams and aspirations of my parents within me, and I am determined to utilize my education and connections to make a positive impact in the world. I stand as a testament to the power of perseverance, and I hope to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams relentlessly, just as I have.

“The UW served as a hub of diverse perspectives, and these connections continue to inspire and support me on my journey.” —Danny, ‘15

Barbara Green, ‘75

Being a first-generation college student allowed me to become “professional,” i.e. white collar vs blue collar.
Motivation: My parents told me at age 5 that I would go to college and I believed them.
Best part of my experience: Haggett Hall and my friends there.
Where did I go for support? My roommate Lory, who was smarter than me.
What would I tell my college self? Do the same — maybe study more.

“Being a first-generation college student allowed me to become ‘professional.’” —Barbara, ‘75

Michael Griffus, ’80

Seattle is my hometown and I am child number 7 of 14 children. My father was a truck driver with an 8th grade education. My mother only finished 11th grade. I am the first person on either side of my family to obtain a college degree. I had one older brother that attended college but dropped out and became a truck driver.

Being from such a large family, I do not recall, as a family, that we ever discussed pursuing an advanced education. In both grade school and high school I was near the top of my class. In high school I was fortunate to have a teacher that encouraged me to go to college…

Because my parents could not afford to contribute anything to my education, after high school I joined the United States Marine Corps to qualify for the GI bill. While in the Marines, my platoon commander also encouraged me to go to college. He even gave me books to read and helped me with my application to the University of Washington. The UW was the only college where I applied.

As a veteran, the on-campus Veteran’s Administration was extremely helpful and encouraging. The GI Bill was not nearly enough to pay all expenses so I worked as a dock worker and truck driver helper summers and holidays. The owner of the company then asked me to work in the office after school on a full time basis.

Juggling school full time and working full time was difficult but I managed to fit in some of the fun parts of college, mainly Husky sports. When I was younger, I sold peanuts for a company at Husky games so it was ironic that I was now attending.

The entire UW experience was so enlightening and the overall education was exhilarating to a poor kid from the Rainier Valley. The education opened my eyes to possibilities that I could achieve anything I wanted. I met my current wife my senior year and we graduated together.

My biggest advisor and supporter during my school years was the owner of the trucking company that employed me. He was a UW Alum and let me schedule my work hours around my school schedule. He asked about my classes and my grades and encouraged me when times were difficult. The advisors at the VA were also very kind and genuinely interested in my progress. I am not sure I would have made it without both of their support.

The biggest advice I would give my college self would be to take more advantage of the “Office Hours” offered by the professors and graduate teaching assistants. When I would be struggling with a lesson, I didn’t go there for help and spent many hours trying to figure things out on my own.

My parents and family were very proud when I graduated with a business degree. Having that degree has helped me advance in my career. I worked my way up from dock worker to become CEO of a major transportation firm. I was just appointed CEO of Pierce Transit in Pierce County. It has been 41 years since I graduated from the UW and attribute much of my success to the education I received there. I am a very proud Husky.

“Juggling school full time and working full time was difficult but I managed to fit in some of the fun parts of college.” — Michael, ’80

Nicole Gustine, ’02, ’05, ’14

Being a first generation college student and the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college is something for which I am extremely proud. It has also been one of my life’s biggest challenges. Though I was valedictorian at my high-school, I had no support for, and was actively discouraged from, going on to college. My parents had religious ideals that I did not share, and it took leaving home and discovering my own identity outside of a highly restricted environment in order to find my way to higher education.

I had a lot of doubts about myself, and my ability to succeed in school. However, once I was enrolled at UW, and accepted in to the Honors Program, I became my true self. I thrived in the college environment, soaking in every bit of thought and analysis and discovery….

I built a community among fellow students and professors, who were always so willing to share their experience and time, and help me feel a part of something to which I thought I was an outsider. I also had a supportive boyfriend at the time, whose parents were academics and provided a lot of encouragement. I always felt that others believed in me more than I did in myself. Slowly and steadily I gained self-confidence and learned that I can rely on my curiosity and my abilities. I built critical thinking skills that I now see as one of my greatest assets.

The advice I would give to my college self is this: believe in yourself. You have courage and can do great things. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UW with honors in Art History, I went on to earn a master’s degree from the UW Information School, and a Juris Doctorate from the UW School of Law. I am a triple dawg, and a Husky for life.

“Believe in yourself. You have courage and can do great things.” — Nicole, ’02, ’05, ’14

Hamse Ibrahim Igge, ’23

What does being a First Generation college student mean to you?
I am a refugee family’s first-generation college student. Finding my college passion wasn’t easy, but it was both difficult and rewarding. I participated in a running start program at Puget Sound Skills Center while still in high school, and I chose to do a dental assistant program, which I enjoyed. And I graduated from Tyee High School with eight scholarships. Being a first-generation college student required me to stay laser-focused, sharp, hardworking, resilient, consistent, dedicated, and have a strong work ethic, as well as perseverance. Above all, being a first-generation college student means being vigilant for those who look like me or share my values, and when they need help, tutoring, mentoring, service, or volunteering, I want to be there for them and give that support to my community because I can make a big difference in their college experiences…

What motivated you to go to college?
Before being hired as a Dental Assistant, I volunteered for six months at a local dental clinic called Seamar Dental Clinic after graduating from high school. I began working as a dental assistant during my first quarter of college and continue to do so at Seamar Dental Clinic today.

While I have a spark and a dream of becoming a dentist one day, I went into college knowing it would not be easy, but I was committed and dedicated and started my journey in college with both challenging and exciting days ahead of me, and I was curious throughout my journey. Because of the transition from high school to college, my first quarter of college was the most difficult quarter of my undergraduate career. This, however, sets me up for failure as well as success, and I welcome my failures because they help me stay focused.

What was the best thing about your college experience?
I had so many great college experiences, and I enjoyed them all not only because they were all great, but also because I had to challenge myself while I was enjoying myself, getting my feet wet, getting out of my comfort zone, and broadening my experience. Because many of us don’t embrace challenges and make it a great college experience, and we frequently don’t try to be in the path where you think you can’t thrive because we have this fear of failure mindset. As previously stated, failure forces you to learn from your mistakes and become a master of that experience.

Networking with a large number of students and striving to be better than yesterday. I was one of two Highline College students chosen to join the Washington Academic Team in 2020, and I have grown and learned to be confident in my academic career. In 2021, I participated in an extremely competitive summer internship at the UW Seattle site called SHPEP, which opened my eyes and strengthened my path in dentistry. And this past summer, I worked as an RTA for SHPEP at UW Seattle, assisting scholars in medicine, public health, and dentistry from all over the county. This was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ll never forget it.

Who did you turn to when you needed support?
My mentors, teachers, and professors have been instrumental in my success as an undergrad and now as a prospective dental school applicant. I believe I’ve made the commitment, navigation, and networking to stay connected and be honest about who you are, and they’ve been a treasure. I believe I will never be able to repay their sacrifice and dedication, and I will cherish every minute they spend with me personally. I will always treasure their humility, and I can commit to making them happy by paying it forward and serving others in the same way they did for us.

I believe there is a cycle, and only the great ones inspire us to go above and beyond. I’ve met one of the most incredible mentors in my life. I don’t take them for granted, but I appreciate their kindness and support. That is why I am happy where I am today, and I only have one goal: to change as many lives as they have changed mine. I thank all of my mentors and teachers, and may God bless them all.

What advice would you give to your college self?
Do not be afraid to fail or to share your failures with others. I guarantee you will grow and change people’s lives this way.

In college, you do not have to be smart, but you must develop a strong work ethic, consistency, work hard, and take risks by challenging yourself. You must also be curious and walk with anyone who reflects your personality, while remaining true to your soul at all times.

Do not compare yourself to anyone because each of us is unique and capable of something we lack; do not try to fit into boxes because none of us are perfect; and don’t worry about what others think of you because you don’t have to care. Instead, embrace the environment and be willing to learn from others. That is how you will progress academically as well as personally.

Instead of being a gunner, be a humble and optimistic student who likes his classmates and learns from them because they have the real knowledge you seek. And maintaining our identity is critical because difficult experiences can occasionally change who we are. As much as we all want to do well in college or graduate school, I believe it is critical that we never lose sight of the bigger picture while maintaining our posture, dignity, and tenacity.

“Maintaining our identity is critical because difficult experiences can occasionally change who we are.” — Hamse, ’23

Mariko Kageyama, ’18

Being the first generation college student meant to me actually nothing more than that external labeling — to me higher education was a must-have experience to succeed in whatever specialty I would like to pursue in my own career in the 21st century. By high school age I realized how much I loved studying biology and learning about organisms, which motivated me to go to college to continue that pure passion. The best experiences I had during my college days were opportunities to meet and learn from those leading researchers and scholars in a particular field of interest that you identify most fascinating out of a myriad of things to explore. Those professors truly impacted my career decision and motivated me further to move on to graduate school. Finally I would like to advise my college self and those similarly situated that once you are in a driver’s seat, you will be a trailblazer; even if you end up with something totally different years later than what you are currently studying at the moment, enjoy the very process of analyzing questions in context while meeting as many interesting people as possible along the way. Education is empowerment.

“Education is empowerment.” — Mariko, ’18

Dicky Leonardo, ’05

I’m originally from Indonesia. After high school, I was contemplating whether to go to college or open up my own business. I decided to go to college because I want to pursue my interest in computer programming. Both my parents are high school graduates, but they support my decision to go to college. I’m glad that they could send me to school in the US to graduate from one of the best universities in the world, the University of Washington, which made my parents proud.

The best thing about my college experience was that I met many people from various backgrounds, from local to international students. If I had pieces of advice that I would give to my college self, I would not sweat the small stuff, find something I’m passionate about, know my self-worth and never give up!

“Know [your] self-worth and never give up!” Dicky, ’05

Patrick Lippert, ‘73

Yes, I am the First Generation Husky in my family, but I am not the first one who wanted to be. My father wanted to go, but the Depression and the War made that impossible. He went to work for Boeing, and one of his high school teachers met him once and said “So you’re at the U,” and that was not the case. As I grew up, he made sure it was possible for me. When I was admitted, I went on a “mom and dad” scholarship. He knew the reality of lost opportunity.

But for my extended family, I am not the first to attend — my uncle, Don Jones — a logger’s kid from Sedro Wooley — was recruited to the Football Team (1937-39) and was subsequently drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.

In both cases it is a story of opportunity, but if we think of opportunity as something specific we already know, we sell education and the University of Washington short. Education itself sets an obligation to reason in you, and this obligation changes what opportunity means. The point is the depth of what you then do.

“My father…knew the reality of lost opportunity.” Patrick, ’73

Joy A. Lorton, ’94

I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree Cum Laude from the University of Washington on June 10, 1994, the day after my youngest daughter graduated from high school. It was a long time coming, and I thought of it as “soul work.” In high school (graduated June 1961), I had a burning desire for higher education, so I elected to take all college prep courses. However, I didn’t know how I could afford to pay for college. I grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks.” My stepfather, a migrant factory worker, and my mother, a homemaker who couldn’t even drive, quit elementary school at an early age. Neither one of them went to high school.

I carried a 4.0 GPA through high school and held a student government office for two years. I was selected to represent my high school at California Girls’ State, won the American Legion’s award for “The Most Outstanding Twelfth Grade Girl,” and I ranked in the top ten seniors of my class. Yet no counselor ever offered me advice about the college application process, nor was I given any information about grants and loans available to finance a college education…

In those days, the cultural consensus was that girls only wanted to attend junior college to obtain their “Mrs. Degree.” The expectation was — even though on a subconscious level — that our life purpose should focus on finding a soulmate, marrying him, having children and taking care of our family. Yet, college was a dream of mine from as far back as I could remember.

To escape my dysfunctional family, I married my first serious boyfriend one month after I completed high school. I started my first job on the Monday following my high school graduation on a Thursday. I took the civil service exam in my senior year on a whim as a means toward an end to gain my independence. I figured that I could get a summer job, and later I’d consider registering at Los Angeles Junior College in the fall. I passed that test with a high score, and the L.A. County Flood Control District called me for an interview as a Typist Clerk. That interview lasted for less than a half hour, and that job lasted for ten years. Consequently, college never came into the picture as a reality. Especially not after my identical twin daughters were born when I was twenty-one. Even after divorcing my abusive husband of seven years, my dream of college remained in my heart and mind. It was always there, regardless of my life circumstances, gently nagging at me.

I remarried three years later and moved to Washington. At the age of thirty-three, when my youngest daughter by my second husband was born and my twins were twelve, I registered as a part-time student at Bellevue Community College. I was not gainfully employed because I wanted to care for my newborn at least until she turned one, so it seemed like perfect timing. I attended classes and planned to matriculate as a full-time student in the fall. My initial goal was an Associate of Arts Degree, after which I wanted to transfer to a four-year university. But the best laid plans of women and mice often go awry. Soon after I began taking classes, due to my husband’s employment situation, I returned to a full-time job and quit college. It was one of the toughest decisions I’d ever made, but I believed it necessary to sacrifice my dream of college for the financial well-being of my family.

Fast forward ten more years when my second husband left me, and the law firm where I worked fired me. I was devastated. As one might expect, my self-esteem took a big hit. I then visited the BCC campus to investigate the possibility of reawakening my dream of college. I spoke with a counselor at the Women’s Center to discuss my options. While talking to her, the last ten years of my life flashed before my eyes. I suddenly realized that I’d lived the last ten years of my life for everyone except myself. In that moment of clarity, I understood deep within that I had to take action toward my dream of a college degree that I’d put on hold for far too long. I didn’t know how I’d accomplish it, but my inner drive didn’t allow me to consider any of the obstacles I might encounter along the way. Instead of searching for other employment, I registered for the fall quarter and made up my mind to do anything I had to do to make it happen.

“I understood deep within that I had to take action toward my dream of a college degree that I’d put on hold for far too long.”Joy, ’94

I collected unemployment compensation for a while and that, at first, helped to pay my bills. I was a divorced, single mother. My daughter and I regularly visited the food bank so we’d have enough to eat, and my daughter made her own sacrifices of time away from me while I attended classes. My situation often felt dire. But every time I wondered where my next dollar was coming from, something happened that reconfirmed, regardless of the challenges I faced, that I was on the right path. For instance, one day I found in my mailbox a check for the cash value of a life insurance policy that I’d completely forgotten about. Another time, while walking through the Registrar’s Office, I spied a brochure announcing that the alumni association was offering its first $500 scholarship to a deserving student. Immediately, I started completing an application and writing a letter explaining why I thought that I deserved the scholarship. I didn’t hear anything back until the president of the alumni association called me later. He began by apologizing profusely because he was supposed to contact me a week earlier to notify me that I’d won the scholarship. He ended by inviting me to an annual alumni dinner where he’d officially award the scholarship to me. After hanging up the phone, I started crying hysterically. My daughter rushed into the room believing that the caller must have given me tragic news. I told her it wasn’t tragic news at all; it was wonderful news. Subsequently, she and I went to the dinner and that scholarship paid my total tuition for the next quarter. Those were only two of the serendipitous events which reaffirmed — again and again — that I was on the right path. That path was continuing to attend classes toward reaching my goal of an Associate of Arts Degree.

Since I’d previously earned college credits when my then-teenager was a toddler, I’d already made considerable progress toward achieving my goal. There were days when it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, but I did. I kept attending my classes, and during the summers, I found temporary jobs as a legal secretary (the career I’d chosen when my daughter was five). After three continuous years of grinding homework, uncertainty, and despite all odds, I accumulated sufficient credits to qualify for my AA. When the president handed my degree to me, she understood the struggles I’d faced and conquered, and she said, “It’s taken you a long time to get here, but you finally made it!” She was absolutely right. My daughter was nine months old when I started taking classes part-time, and she was fifteen when I received my Associate of Arts & Sciences Degree with Honors on June 14, 1991. I felt self-satisfied, weary and hopeful about the next step to further pursue a four-year degree.

Following my graduation, the law firm where I’d worked for the past two summers offered me a full-time job. While my choice to return to full-time employment was difficult to make, I knew that financially, it would result in the best outcome for both my daughter and me. So I accepted their offer. Ironically, similar to the time when I learned about the alumni association scholarship, I chanced upon a brochure for an informational meeting for the University of Washington’s Evening Degree Program. It had already succeeded in its first year, and the UW was anxious to register students to continue the program in its second year. Of course, I went to the meeting and, again, I came away with a plan. I could actually work a full-time job, while maintaining my status as a full-time student at the University of Washington by taking night classes. By that time, I was familiar with the various means of financial support I could get as a college student, so I immediately applied for grants. To my surprise and astonishment, I received a grant for my first quarter as a student at the UW. Thus began the next step in my pursuit of a college degree.

During my first quarter at UW, I continued to commute by bus as I had previously done. I took my regular bus to work in the morning. After I finished my workday, I caught another bus that took me to the UW campus. After my last class, I took a third bus back downtown, but because it was a late hour, I had to transfer to a fourth bus that took me the rest of the way home. My normal commuter bus stopped running after early evening. There was only one quarter that I managed to survive commuting by bus. It was far too time consuming, plus I had a teenage daughter at home. So in my second quarter, I determined it was worth spending the money for parking downtown during the day, and my car was then available to drive to the UW campus after work. There were definite benefits to paying for a parking permit on campus instead of bussing it. I was going to night classes four days a week. There were evenings after I arrived at the UW campus that I’d take a power nap in the front seat of my Toyota Corolla before class to get a little more rest. I needed to do my homework in the computer lab at school because I didn’t own a computer. There were nights that instead of going directly home after class, I drove back downtown, and I did my homework on the office computer. I’d call my daughter to touch base with her, and tell her that I wouldn’t arrive home until after she was asleep. Often, I didn’t get home until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.; however, I still had to rise at the same time every morning and make it to my regular day job. On those days when I felt the most drained, I tried to raise my energy level by wearing the brightest clothes in my closet.

Fast forward again. After three consecutive years of working full-time as a Legal Secretary during the day, attending UW classes four nights a week, and fulfilling my responsibilities as a single mother of a teenage daughter, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The administrators of the Evening Degree Program asked me to speak at a couple of orientations for new students. They wanted me to talk about my personal experience to demystify the truth about college, especially as an adult returning student. I always told students that, for me, going to college came from within my heart and soul, yet it was still exhausting and seldom immediately rewarding. I said there would be times when the temptation to quit altogether would overwhelm them, but if they persevered, they would eventually reach the end of their own journey.

Finally, at the age of fifty-one and thirty-three years after I graduated from high school, I was set to attend my graduation ceremony at the University of Washington. When I gave my daughter the date, she informed me that she couldn’t attend. Her high school graduation was the day before; she planned to attend the all-night party; and she wasn’t willing to wake up early the next morning to attend my graduation. Fortunately, I’d progressed enough in my self-growth that I didn’t take it personally. She was a young woman in her own right (which I’d strongly encouraged her entire life), and I had no issue with her not watching me graduate. After receiving my diploma, I noticed language on it that read, “Degree of Bachelor of Arts Cum Laude.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked my classmate sitting next to me. She informed me that it was a designation given only to students who maintained at least a 3.0 GPA and were in the 75th percentile or above other students in their class. She explained that there was one higher designation, Magna Cum Laude, but I had achieved the second highest designation for a college graduate. At the celebratory brunch for graduating students, the accomplishment I’d reached against all odds started to soak in, and I thought, “No matter what, no one can ever take my college degree from me!” I felt beyond proud of myself and basked in the glory of completing what was for me the “biggest piece of unfinished business” of my life.

“Going to college came from within my heart and soul, yet it was still exhausting.”Joy, ’94

Tyrell Milliron, ’10

Going to college was always an inevitability when I was younger. I never thought I wouldn’t get there. I didn’t know the best way to go about it all but when my senior year of high school came around in 2005 I started applying to nearby universities on my own, paying for the application fees with what I made at my fast food job. No one in my family even knew I was applying.

I had no extra-curriculars, no volunteer experience and no club memberships to add to my application. I had a bad GPA from my first two years of high school when I thought I could skate by without putting in any effort. I had resigned myself to only getting accepted at “bad” schools…

Receiving that large packet from UW, months later than the other schools I applied to, was a surprise. Opening it to see it was a provisional acceptance was even more of a surprise. How could you be provisionally accepted? It turns out I was right about my record being not quite good enough to get into a “good” school. UW was willing to overlook my past mistakes if I could prove I was capable of succeeding in a university system. I had to come to campus for four weeks in the summer to attend classes, receive tutoring and adhere to a strict study-eat-sleep schedule. If I had failed at that tryout my life would have taken a completely different path.

Having no adult figures in my life to help guide me through this wasn’t in my mind at the time since that was pretty standard for every other aspect of life as well. This mindset got me into college but it also may have held me back. I didn’t check in with an advisor until my senior year of college. I was doing fine to graduate but I hadn’t been very ambitious in my class scheduling. I do look back now and wish I had taken better advantage of the opportunities provided to me by UW. My advice then is don’t be afraid to fail. Take the difficult class that will pay off better in the future. Go to study centers with your classmates and work through the course together. You will make better friends and a better future than if you only watch your GPA when selecting classes.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Take the difficult class that will pay off better in the future.” —Tyrell, ’10

Claudia Villa Moore, ’18

Being a first generation student meant looking for ways to feed my desire to succeed until it overpowered my fear of failure. As firsts, we learn to motivate and advocate for ourselves and constantly look for resources to help us navigate through the unknown.

It can often feel like two full-time jobs when you’re also working to put yourself through college. Hard as it may be, our experience and perspective help us develop the skills we need to thrive in the real world, so own it; it’s an opportunity to grow, not a disadvantage.

I was motivated to go to college because I wanted to set an example for the next generation of women in my family…

As a young girl, I didn’t see Latina leaders in my community or in biotech, and I was determined to help change that. Knowing that someone you identify with accomplished something you aspire can make your goal feel more attainable.

The best thing about my college experience was meeting people from different backgrounds and learning about their stories, culture, and food. I came from a place without much diversity so this exposure taught me to value different perspectives; seeking and taking other perspectives into consideration helped me grow as a person and thrive in my career.

If I could give any advice to my college self, I would say that it’s never too early to look for internships. Use your internships wisely: they are an opportunity for you to apply what you’ve learned, network, learn new skills, identify what you do and don’t want from an entry level position, and find a mentor. Finally, don’t forget to make time to celebrate your accomplishments and share your successes with others for an added boost of motivation!

“Don’t forget to make time to celebrate your accomplishments and share your successes with others.”Claudia, ’18

Mercedes Morales, ‘12

Being a First-Generation College Student in my family was truly meaningful. It meant that I had an opportunity to forge my own path in life. Growing up on a small island in Washington (Camano), there were not a lot of opportunities, but after getting accepted and deciding to attend the UW, I felt so many paths opened for me. I had a lot of internal and external motivation to go to college: I had younger siblings and I wanted them to see me as a role model. I wanted them to see the possibilities and know that I could be a future resource as well when they wanted to pursue higher education.

Additionally, I am a naturally curious person and I love learning. I consider myself a life-long learner. College was a foregone conclusion for me as soon as I learned that college existed! Looking back, I owe my current successful career to my studies here as a student…

I was a Work Study student with the School of Social Work Admissions for four years and this was an invaluable experience. I am currently the Assistant Director of Finance Shared Services, I have had several progressive positions at the University of Washington including a period working with the Executive Vice President’s Office.

There were so many good experiences from college that shaped me into the person I am today. The UW had a way of gently but firmly encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone and join clubs and build community. I gravitated towards the resources that focused on balance between studies, family, friends and community. I used many resources on campus from study rooms at Odegaard, to the Career Center, and the Ethnic Cultural Center, professor office hours, copy/print centers, loaner-laptop program, attending performances/personally performing in Meany Hall, and many others. I built friendships that persist to this day which established a professional network when I entered my career.

When I needed support at the University I leaned into community-based organizations on campus, both academic groups such as Phi Eta Sigma and Unidas Seremos, a multicultural women’s organization on campus. Unidas was and still is a student organization run out of the ECC. I held several leadership roles in the organization over the years and the women in this organization were a constant resource for questions/concerns throughout the years.

Advice I would give my future self, is study abroad! I was a bit timid and introverted and I think studying abroad would have been a fantastic experience. Also join a study group!! This is a great way to break up the work, meet new friends and develop collaboration skills.

The UW is a wonderful place to study and work, I value all of my time here over the last 15 years!

“The UW had a way of gently but firmly encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone and join clubs and build community.” Mercedes, ’12

Don Motanic, ’78

When you’re a first-generation college student with our tribes, it not only involves your immediate family, but whole tribal community.

My father grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and my mother grew up on the Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene Indian Reservations. They met at the Chemewa Indian Boarding School in the 1930’s and married after WWII. My father started to work on Boeing projects in Seattle that required a military security clearance, which he had received as an interpreter during the war.

I grew up in Renton, Washington when only 30% of the tribal population lived in urban areas, whereas in 2020, about 70% of the tribal population lives in urban areas. In the 1970’s there were only 1,200 Indian science and engineers and now there’s over 25,000… 

In 1972, I didn’t realize that I would be one of the rare tribal students to graduate with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degree in forest engineering. But it was even more rare to be an urban Indian and return to work with my tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, as the forest manager from 1984 to 1986. I also returned to the Spokane Indian Reservation where my mother grew up and I was the forest manager from 1986 to 1994.

I was motivated to attend college by three things back in the 1970’s. First, the University of Washington held a recruiting session during my senior year at Renton High School in 1972. The recruiters came to our school and wanted me to apply, especially when they found out that I was a tribal member. I planned on attending community college to improve my math and science skills, but they told me about the UW Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) that provided remedial classes for supporting minority students.

The second motivation to attend college was the cost in 1972. Tuition for community college was $88 per quarter and $188 per quarter at UW. I worked at KFC during the summer at the minimum wage of $1.60/hr and saved enough money to attend college. I also received $300 from our Tribe which paid for half of my tuition for the year.

The third motivation to attend and finish college was finding out that I could work outside in the forest as a career.

“The third motivation to attend and finish college was finding out that I could work outside in the forest as a career.”Don, ’78

The best thing about my college experience was the ability to be part of several communities during my time at UW. My first community was the UW EOP Indian Program with Don Matt and Arla Conway. They provided a connection to the EOP program opportunities with remedial classes and tutor services along with the small Native community at UW in the 1970’s.

My second community involved the School of Forestry and summer programs. I started working at the Seattle Arboretum during the summer of 1973 with the Director Joe Witt and that experience led to my next summer job. I started living and working at the Seattle Watershed in North Bend, Washington as a “Fire Guard” during the summers of 1974-1977. I lived and worked with a crew of eight other students that helped set up timber sales, measured trees for the 10-year forest inventory, designed forest roads and recorded weather station data manually. The forestry school had a family style of community where Professor Dave Scott would invite his students to a dinner at his home to share food and stories. Dr. Scott was the first professor to mention the great opportunities of Indian forests to me. The forestry school would also host the Garb Day at Pack Forest near Eatonville, Washington where the students participated in logging competitions along with more stories and food. Our forest engineering senior class capstone project was to set up timber sales for the Washington State Department of Natural Resource on the Olympic Peninsula where we lived in the State’s fire crew quarters in Forks, Washington for the Spring 1978 quarter.

My third community was the UW Rugby Club from 1975-1978. My first experience watching rugby was my first game up in Vancouver, BC. My position was in the second row of the “scrum” and I spent 80 minutes in a large shoving match with my mates against other mates from Maple Ridge. After the game we would spend the next 80 minutes drinking, eating and singing with the opposing team who then became our rugby brothers. The UW Rugby Club hosted an annual Rugby Mudball Tournament each spring on the fields between Husky Stadium and the Montlake Parking lots. I remember working on the program committee and securing sponsors from the local bars and restaurants near the area. I was happy to find another Native on the team, John Spence from the Gros Ventre Tribe and he also graduated from the local Highline High School. Our team photo and John’s extraordinary autobiography is in his book, “Crazy Wolf: A Half Breed Story.”

My forestry, rugby community and other drinking friends did expose my alcohol problem that led to a night in jail, a DUI and poor grades that led to academic probation in 1976. My Native community provided life-changing support through one of my first UW connections, Arla Conway. She helped me by introducing me to new sober friends in the Native community and my life started to turn around in 1977 and 1978. I ended up on the Dean’s List with a 3.77 GPA for my last quarter at UW.

My years as first-gen student at UW did provide me with what I called Cayuse Justice: What Goes Around Comes Around. 

“The best thing about my college experience was the ability to be part of several communities during my time at UW.” Don, ’78

Vu Nguyen, ‘07

My parents brought my siblings and I to the States in the mid-90’s for us to have the opportunity to attend college and pursue the American dream. Seeing my parents work hard to support the family was what motivated me to be the first one in the family to get a college degree.

Getting into college and through college weren’t easy – I’m grateful for the mentors and counselors who have guided me along the way. My parents were my biggest advocates and were among those who have provided the moral support.

My advice to my college self is to not be afraid of failure and to give every dream and aspiration a chance to become reality by trying it out.

“My parents were my biggest advocates.” —Vu, ‘07

Dr. Mina D. Nguyen-Driver, ‘96

As natives of Vietnam, my parents brought to the United States a unique perspective that although tragedy is a universal experience, how one thrives in the aftermath is the true test of resilience. My ingrained drive for success can be traced back to April 29, 1975, known historically as “The Fall of Saigon.” My father, a major in the South Vietnamese Air Force, conducted a heroic mission to rescue me, my family, and many members of his South Vietnamese squadron from an encroaching Communist invasion. In scenes that sound like a blockbuster movie — a harrowing helicopter escape, a touch-and-go negotiation with a U.S. combat ship, a human airdrop into the arms of American forces — my life took a critical turn that day toward opportunity. Rather than being imprisoned or forsaken, my parents and family were brought to America to start a new life…

During that journey, my brother suffered a deep abrasion on his head. The bleeding would not subside, and after several days, he was hospitalized at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This is how we learned that my brother had hemophilia, a discovery that would eventually inspire my interest in working with children and families coping with medical issues.

These life experiences are reflected in my decision to study pediatric psychology. My parents’ perspectives about the past guided every aspect of my upbringing and taught me the importance of hard work and determination. They showed me how to see opportunity in adversity, a mindset that continues to propel me forward. My parents valued education and hard work and instilled values of resilience and fortitude as I grew up a refugee in the United States. As the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first person in my family to receive a doctorate, I am deeply tied through my drive for success to the history that brought me here after a fateful day 48 years ago.

“As the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first person in my family to receive a doctorate, I am deeply tied through my drive for success to the history that brought me here…” —Mina, ‘96

Crys O’Grady, ‘16

Not only was I a first-generation college student, but I was a first-generation law school graduate. This has allowed me to support my family and tribal community.

As my tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, sets up our tribal governance structure, I have the opportunity to help shape the framework of tribal sovereignty for my community.

“I have the opportunity to help shape the framework of tribal sovereignty for my community.” —Crys, ‘16

Georgina Olazcon Mozo, ’08

Being a first-generation college student is an experience full of conflicting emotions. I was excited and proud, but also terrified and full of doubt. I feel it was a marathon that I started 10 miles behind everyone. Being a first-generation college student meant that I did not have anyone close to me that I would be able to reach out to ask basic questions, such as financial aid, how to enroll in school, what extracurricular activities to pursue, or what student groups to join.

I was motivated to go to college by my uncle who raised me and whom I consider to be my dad…

In my culture, women are not expected to go to college. Especially when I was younger, the life path I was supposed to follow was to get married and be a housewife. But my dad never imposed such a limited view of my future. Ever since I was a young child, he encouraged me to focus on school and to have good grades. He and my aunt told me how poor their families were and how they always wanted to pursue higher education but were unable to because their families could not afford to send them to school beyond junior high.

The best thing about my college experience is that it opened my eyes to the world around me. It was because of my college education that I got to learn about human rights, migration, women’s fight for equity, courts and the legal field. It was because of my undergrad education that I decided to become a public interest lawyer.

The people who supported me through my undergrad career were my community college professors and academic counselors. There were professors along the way that made a huge impact on my life. Also, my now husband too. His support while I was in undergrad helped me continue working toward graduation. At times when I felt I was about to quit school because it was too much, he would encourage me to keep going.

If I were able to talk to my younger self, there would be so many things I would want to tell myself. I would tell myself to not listen to the negative things other people said. For example, a coworker once told me, I had been accepted to UW only because of affirmative action. Hearing those things was so hurtful and damaging. I would tell my younger self, that I was able to get as far as I had gotten because of the hard work I had put into everything. I would also tell my younger self to join student organizations, to not be afraid to reach out to professors, and to not be afraid to express my opinions.

“I would tell myself to not listen to the negative things other people said. I would tell my younger self, that I was able to get as far as I had gotten because of the hard work I had put into everything.” –Georgiana, ‘08

Ruth Ortiz Villagrana, ’14, ’20

For 11 years the University of Washington (UW) has been a constant in my life. In 2010, I was accepted to the UW, as a freshman, where I intended to pursue an education that would prepare me to teach, provide quality learning environments, and create equitable opportunities for underserved early learners. In 2014, I graduated with a bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Family Studies (ECFS) and a minor in Spanish.

I began my first professional job at the UW months before I graduated, thanks to networking opportunities. After five years of field experience and a grown interest in education policy, I enthusiastically returned to the classroom. I continued to work full-time at UW while taking UW graduate student courses and activities full-time…

In 2020, I lived a unique first-generation experience: I graduated with a master’s in Education Policy via Zoom! Today, I continue to work for the UW, doing the things that I love the most: research, analyzing data, and creating educational policies that support equitable opportunities for the diverse early learners and educators of our state and nation.

I am humbled and thankful for my Husky experience because it allowed me to gain the things I am most thankful for: the opportunity to be a first-generation college graduate, a dorm roommate who became my best friend, friendships from around the world, colleagues who turned into friends and mentors, peers who share similar interests in education and innovative research, and a quality education that led to my professional career at UW.

Most importantly, the UW helped me remain a resilient individual and learner. Being a Husky means being a member of a community that embraces and supports my individuality and education. I am proud to say that my post-secondary education, career, and adult life have all involved the UW, and for that I am entirely grateful. I will continue working so that students, including first-generation students, can pursue their own educational opportunities, better yet, their own Husky experience.

If I could go back to 2010, I would say to my college self, “Those goals you have, those are only the beginning. You’ll cross goals off your list, re-shape some, and create new ones — some even bigger ones and others yet unthought of.”

“Those goals you have, those are only the beginning. You’ll cross goals off your list, re-shape some, and create new ones…” —Ruth, ’14, ’20

Thomas Osinski, Jr., ‘99

Being a First Generation College Student means we all have the ability to do far more than we ever thought possible. Past is not prologue and although cycles of class, education and achievement are very real headwinds to be overcome, they can be overcome. Going to UW led to me going to law school and has led to my own practice for nearly two decades with clients and cases literally all over the world. More than I ever dreamt of as a kid or even my parents could hope for when they encouraged me to go to college. But it can be done.

At first, I went to college because teachers and parents pushed me. I pushed back and ended up having to take a year off from UW due to low scholarship. Spent that year in the “real world” and learned in my bones I wanted more…

So back I came, with my own resources, and put myself through undergrad and then law school. But if I hadn’t both been pushed in the first place, resisted, and then been allowed to come back I never would have reached the success I did. I believe anyone can experience struggles and overcome them to be the stronger for it. And college was key to that experience for me.

The best advice I could give my college self, or anyone in that role, is that it gets easier, and it’s worth it. You will hit your stride and find your way. And there is no more valuable thing you could have in the world than that education when you get to the end.

“I believe anyone can experience struggles and overcome them to be the stronger for it.” —Thomas, ‘99

Rhea Panela, ’17

I’m the first to attend college in my family, so there was definitely a lot of pressure to do things “right.” I am the daughter of two Filipino immigrants who came to Seattle in the seventies/eighties. Through hard work and perseverance, they navigated life in America with limited English.

Being a First Generation college student meant being able to use that same determination and work ethic to make use of the opportunities made available to me as an American-born citizen. I wanted to make my time at UW a reflection of my parents’ sacrifices and efforts to give me and my younger brother a better life…

I wanted to attend college to not only unlock more doors and opportunities for my future, but also to prove to myself and my family that I could do whatever I set my heart and mind on. There were many doubts and obstacles I faced along the way. Some factors included being the first in my family to complete college applications and apply for FAFSA and scholarships. I also had to share a room with my parents and my brother for much of my childhood up until college. I witnessed all of the late nights and early mornings my parents went to work. They would pick up extra shifts just to make sure there was food on the table. My main motivation was to make sure their hard work was repaid with my completion of a college degree.

The best thing about college was the wide array of activities and events on campus. It seemed like there was always something going on, and it made the campus feel very warm and welcoming. I loved being a part of student organizations and meeting other students with similar experiences. I also loved the opportunities to learn about other cultures and diverse perspectives. It was very easy for me to feel like I belonged on campus.

I was involved in the UW Upward Bound program during high school, which allowed me to make connections with advisors and counselors through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity. They were a big part of my success as a First Generation college student.

If I could give words of advice to my college self, I would remind myself not to work too hard and forget to make time to relax and play. I balanced internships, sorority activities, homework and class projects, and home responsibilities all throughout my four years at UW. Those four years really do fly by, so make sure to make the most of your time there!

“I loved being a part of student organizations and meeting other students with similar experiences.”Rhea, ’17

Fabio Peña, ’16

Since high school, my dreams of attending the University of Washington were inspired by the fact that my parents immigrated from Mexico to the US to seek new opportunities. Only a handfull of others from my high school wanted to take off to Seattle but I wasn’t very close with them. Therefore, it made the transition feel a little lonelier as a first-generation college student. Navigating applications on my own such as housing and financial aid were overwhelming. I also experienced a huge culture shock my first year when I moved to the city. However, it wasn’t all “foreign” to me by the time that I graduated.

I was fortunate to have found a community on campus that I was able to relate to and that came from similar backgrounds…

Even though I experienced academic trauma and was rejected from my major at first, this very same community lifted me up and reminded me that I was capable of graduating still. I wish I had reminded myself of my capability throughout my four years in school which would be my biggest piece of advice for all first-gens.

In my four years, I was fortunate enough to have had great mentors that kept me in my lane as I paved the way to graduation. There were several moments where I felt like quitting but I knew I was setting the example for future generations. Through all my successes and failures, I realized everything unfolded as it should which was the best part of my college experience because it made me who I am. 

“I wish I had reminded myself of my capability throughout my four years in school.” —Fabio, ’16

Jamie Poirier, ‘21

Only two of my grandparents — my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother — graduated high school. Humble, blue-collar roots is where I come from. I’m the first college graduate for each degree I hold — associate’s, bachelor’s, and now a master’s from the UW. My going to college, especially at a world-class institution like UW, was a brand new experience for the family. Never had someone done it before, whether it was filling out the FASFA, applying for student loans, or learning the ins and outs of academia. Never, that is, until me.

I graduated in 2005 from CSUS in California, and went to work almost immediately after getting my BA…

The UW was my dream college, but staying in California meant that I could take advantage of resident rates (and the veterans benefits my father earned through military service for himself and his descendants.) I always intended to get a master’s, as it is needed in my field (libraries) if you want to advance anywhere. But it wasn’t until my husband encouraged me to apply to grad schools that I decided it was time; even then, I wasn’t going to apply to the UW. Ranked #2 in the US for my intended degree, I thought there was no way I was going to get in. My GPA from CSUS was less than the best and, even with 15 or so years of experience… I thought for sure the UW would reject me. The day I got accepted into the graduate school at the University of Washington is still one of the happiest days of my life — so happy, in fact, that I made my husband read the acceptance letter to me over and over to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Attending an online master’s program isn’t easy. Connecting with other students, with faculty and staff, is as challenging as making sure you are self-disciplined enough to stay on top of assignments, lectures, weekly response posts, readings, and everything else that comes with schooling. Attending an online master’s program in the midst of a worldwide pandemic is even more challenging — people getting sick, hospitalized, or even dying puts things into a new perspective. The support system that was built for us, though, held strong. Faculty and staff checked in on us regarding our stress levels, were even more flexible when it came to assignments, and were probably as freaked out as the rest of us. Those long, stressful days linger with many of us — but surviving and even thriving demonstrates that together we can persevere.

If I could offer advice to my younger self, I’d say: don’t wait as long to apply. Be kind to yourself. Grant yourself the grace and space to mess up. Thank your husband and other family members a whole lot more for putting up with you. Take two nights for yourself to just be — one night a week for “family night” isn’t enough. And, more than anything, remember that you are boundless. Just like your university.

“I made my husband read the acceptance letter to me over and over to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.” —Jamie, ‘21

Suzette Yvonne Puente, ’00

There are no words to describe the pride we all felt on the day I graduated from UW. A beautiful June day in 2000 and we are walking down from campus to the Stadium. We had just left the sociology breakfast. My father paused and we thought something was wrong. He started to cry and stated “You are representing all of us today and I am so very proud of you.” I will never forget that day.

I was definitely motivated to prove myself to those who overlooked my potential, lack of knowledge of the college system and my right to pursue higher education…

I went to a college preparatory Catholic high school and my parents worked hard to send us to that school — the one thing is I fell through the cracks. No one talked to me about a 4-year institution. After graduation I sent them a note letting them know that I made it and that the credit was all mine. I also wanted to ensure that didn’t happen to another student.

The best thing about my experience at UW was UW football on Saturdays, OMA and joining a Latina-based sorority. Those same organizations were my support systems along with Terry Hilliard West, Johnella Butler, Al Black, John Walter and Ron Milus to name a few.

The advice I would give my college self is, “You earned this, all of your hard work comes to this, a double major at the University of Washington. You are a Dawg for life.”

“You earned this, all of your hard work comes to this.”  — Suzette, ’00

Ashleigh Rauen, ‘08

After participating in Washington State’s Running Start Program and attending Seattle Central Community College, I attended, thoroughly enjoyed, and graduated in 2008 from the University of Washington’s School of Arts.

The University of Washington was instrumental in me earning my Bachelor’s Degree. I did not receive assistance from my family, financial or otherwise. I was a full-time student, as well as gainfully employed and paying my way 100% through navigating life in Seattle – rent, school, food, ALL of the bills were mine…

After receiving my Associate of the Arts Degree from Seattle Central I attended one semester at Cornish College of the Arts. Cornish was not generous about taking my transfer credits, and Cornish was also a VERY expensive private school. I was taking out Pell Grant loans to pay my way. Transferring to the UW was one of my BEST life decisions: I was a Husky Promise Student. A Husky Promise Student has low-income parents, and has to maintain a certain GPA. I never had to take out another loan, the UW was generous about my transfer credits, and I had so much more freedom.

One of the highlights of my time at the UW was studying abroad in Rome. I will never forget it! It gave me the confidence to travel abroad after college to Iceland and Germany and more. Next week I travel to Ireland for a work trip!

“One of the highlights of my time at the UW was studying abroad in Rome. I will never forget it!” —Ashleigh, ‘08

Ron Sabado, ‘73

I’m proud to be first generation college graduate. My father immigrated from the Philippines in 1927 when he was 20 years old. My mother was a German farm girl in North Dakota. They married in 1938. Those were difficult years for a person of color and for a mixed marriage. My father had some college in the Philippines, but his education was not recognized by any employer. My parents could not afford to pay for their kids’ education. I joined the Army for three years to qualify for the GI bill. I was “turned on” to accounting by UW Professor Don DeCoster. After graduation from the UW, I became a Certified Public Accountant (now retired), a Certified Management Accountant, and a Chartered Global Management Accountant. I earned a master’s degree in management (not from the UW). I spent 10 years on the Washington State Board of Accountancy. After an auditing career with the Department of Defense, I now teach accounting at Highline College. After my graduation from the UW Business school, were five siblings that also graduated out of the nine kids in my family. All five are UW grads! My three kids are college grads (two from UW, one from WSU). Many of my nieces and nephews have attended or graduated from college. A proud legacy for my parents.

“Five siblings… also graduated out of the nine kids in my family.” —Ron, ‘73

Carmella Solomon Schoening, ‘51

Our family’s First-Generation Husky story begins with Gudrun Irene Schoening (nee Kittilsby) 1914-1917, the daughter of 1888 Norwegian immigrant homesteaders at Lilliwaup, Washington, my mother-in-law. The family moved to the Queen Anne community so their children could attend the University of Washington for “en god utdanneise” (a good education). I wed one of her sons, William Klev Schoening, and we graduated together from the UW in June 1951.

Our Husky Family Tree with over 100 years of University of Washington enrollment now numbers 27 limbs over 4 generations, including marriages and births. They have majored in Education, Engineering, Mining, Political Science, Business, Medicine, Arts, Languages and Recreation, earning BA’s, MBA’s, PhD’s and 1 Magna Cum Laude. All of these under the guidance and dedication of professors and instructors who encouraged and supported us.

So we all have been fulfilling our first immigrants’ wish for “en god utdanneise” at the University of Washington.

“So we all have been fulfilling our first immigrants’ wish for “en god utdanneise” at the University of Washington.” —Carmella, ‘51

Lawrence (Larry) Stumes, ‘72

My family moved from San Francisco to Mercer Island in the fall of 1962. Between my junior and senior year at Mercer Island High School, we moved back to the Bay Area. Despite the fact that my parents barely graduated high school, they always made me feel like college was simply an extension of high school; the only choice was where to go. After being accepted at UC Berkeley and the UW, it was an easy decision for me to return to Seattle. I joined the UW Daily staff right away and changed my major from undeclared to Communications. I advanced from sports writer to sports editor to night editor to managing editor to, finally, Editor for the first half of my senior year. The best thing about my college experience was to learn independence; how to live without being physically close to my family. I absolutely thrived. I don’t know that I would give my college self any advice. I needed to live it.

“The best thing about my college experience was to learn independence.” —Larry, ‘72

Elisa Sun, ‘19

For me, attending college and attaining a bachelor’s degree was the epitome of my family’s American dream. I am the child of two immigrants who have struggled tooth and nail to establish a life in a new country, where to this day, they do not speak the language or have a strong support system. The sense of responsibility has always resonated very strongly with me; in order to ensure my parents’ sacrifices were properly honored, I had to keep achieving and exceeding all standards set before me.

Attending college, which is something no one in my family or extended family had done, established the sense in my family that they were officially true Americans and were rooted properly in this country…

Whenever I struggled, I was able to lean on my fellow Huskies, many of whom were also first-generation college students.

I made several friends in my classes in the Communications department, and also made several friends that I depended on for military mentorship in the ROTC programs (as it was my goal to commission through the Army’s Officer Candidate School after graduating). The friends I made are people that I now consider life-long friends, and I think they were the best part of my college experience.

Looking back, I would tell my college self that it’ll be okay! I achieved everything I wanted and more. I commissioned as one of the youngest US Army officers to come out of OCS, and I am still pushing boundaries out here. Classes are hard, growing up is hard, navigating new areas of life is hard, but it was all so worth it in the end.

“Whenever I struggled, I was able to lean on my fellow Huskies, many of whom were also first-generation college students.” –Elisa, ‘19

Dhruv Verma, ’21

Being a First Generation College Student means to pass on a ton of gratitude to folks related to me. Without their commitment, support and encouragement, this journey would not have been possible.

Belonging to a family which migrated to the United States of America during the early 2000s in pursuit of more opportunity, I was always told to follow their footsteps and learn from their hurdles along the way…

Now that I have completed my four year degree from the UW, I feel immensely proud of myself but also at the same time too privileged. Students from around the world dream of heading to America for higher education, and I out of everybody got the opportunity to study at this prestigious university which is a blessing.

The advice I would give to my college self would be, “Don’t be discouraged by everybody around you who you think are doing better than you in terms of their major, grades, coursework etc. After college, there are even greater learnings that lie ahead of you. You should focus on what you are good at in the given moment, and leave everything else for later.”

At UW Bothell, the day I joined Husky Herald (College Newspaper), I was so thrilled to began writing for them. My Editor-in-Chief Ashley Creech pointed out that the opportunities are endless here and we are always looking for contributors. I began writing on campus events and later on developed a unique perspective on writing which shaped my abilities to think differently. There are countless opportunities that I didn’t go for during my four years, but I am grateful for the ones that I took a shot at.

“You should focus on what you are good at in the given moment, and leave everything else for later.”Dhruv, ’21

Jane West (-Opp, Goodchild), ‘92

My two older brothers and I are all first-generation college graduates. We are also first-generation High School graduates!

Our parents grew up in large farming families of the Midwest during the Great Depression. They received only an 8th grade education which was typical of their time and situation. They grew up speaking German and learned English as their second language, but they were reprimanded for speaking any German at school. So you know that our education was extremely important to them.

I completed an Associate’s degree in 1976 following High School and had a nursing career. I’d always wanted a Bachelor’s degree so I returned to college at UW Seattle at age 35. Part of my reason was to provide a legacy for my daughters to get a college education.

During my time at the UW I continued to work and raise a family while commuting from Pierce County to Seattle. I really enjoyed taking the Metro bus from Federal Way non-stop to the U. It was like a library on wheels, very quiet and provided time to study and reflect — no traffic stress and extra time in my day. In 1992 I graduated Cum Laude from the first RN to BSN program at the UW. It remains the proudest moment of my life.

“Part of my reason was to provide a legacy for my daughters to get a college education.”Jane, ’92

James R. Wick, ’64

I never thought much about being a first-generation college student. During my early years, mother frequently voiced her expectation — I would go to college. Yes, I would be the first in our family to do so.

One of my grandfathers was a baker, the other a farmer. The role of mother was at home as homemaker. My parents grew up during the depression and graduated high school. Father was a truck driver/salesman for a beer and soft drink distributor in Olympia. After high school, my mother work for a couple years as a bookkeeper, then her role was at home. Along with my mother’s expectation of my going to college, I would need to work, earn money, and save money to make that happen. In hindsight, I just accepted this as the path I needed to pursue…

One summer, I tried picking strawberries to earn money, and found that was a lot of work for not much return. I watched how our paperboy delivered ours and neighbor’s newspapers, he made it look easy. I was too young to have my own paper route. I found substituting part time for a couple of years was a good alternative, as I got a call whenever it rained, which was frequent.

My diligence as a paperboy paid off, as I had my own Daily Olympian route from 1955-1959, with 100 customers. It also opened other doors working for the newspaper during high school in the circulation department, and other departments to fill in for vacations. This work experience gave me the funds to make college possible. Olympia was still considered a small town. Any concerns I had about going away to college I kept to myself. So many unknowns lay in my future.

An aunt and uncle living in Seattle offered that I could live with them and attend the University of Washington. That seemed like a workable transition. I was not in a position for a scholarship, nor did I explore any other colleges. What should I study? My first thought was Architecture. Speaking with a course counselor at the U of W, left me discouraged. Maybe I didn’t show enough passion for that profession and the unknowns got larger.

One unlikely exposure was a required class — ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp). At that time, ROTC was a compulsory course for the first two years at all land grant colleges. At the University of Washington, I chose Air Force ROTC (Detachment 910) over the Army and Navy programs. Flying seemed interesting, probably more “intriguing” as I had never been in an airplane. I selected business as my course of study.

My uncle Andy owned an acoustical contracting company in Seattle. I must have expressed some doubt about whether or not I could make it through college. He offered me a backup plan — where I could also learn the acoustical trade in case college didn’t work out for me. There were work opportunities while going to school, and I gained the skills of installing acoustical tile ceilings. One of the most challenging and rewarding was the remodel of the Ice Arena at the Seattle World’s Fair — a dropped ceiling varying between 10’–20′ from the old interior ceiling, and each tile was a domed shell 4’x4′ and placed into the supporting grid.

My work experience, alongside and observing other trade jobs, played a key role in why I wanted a college education. Yes, one could earn a living in these trades, but I didn’t want to do any of these jobs for the rest of my life.

“Yes, one could earn a living in these trades, but I didn’t want to do any of these jobs for the rest of my life.”James, ’64

During my sophomore year in college, there were many firsts. My first car. No longer did I have to walk or ride the bus from near Green Lake to the U of W. Another first: a Fraternity showed interest in me — I joined — Sigma Phi Epsilon. During my senior year, I was vice president of this 85-man line-in house.

My experience in ROTC shined brighter. The instructors in Detachment 910 showed interest in me. My discipline from delivering newspapers and family life made the military structure seem easy. I accepted it and excelled.

The real carrot for me was during Advanced ROTC and a program called FIP (Flight Indoctrination Program). I was blessed to be physically qualified to fly. I obtained my FAA Private Pilot’s License through this program flying out of the Renton Airport. Once I took that step toward flying, the confidence I gained reinforced my future career path towards flying.

I graduated University of Washington (1964). My degree was in business — and I graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate and was commissioned as a 2Lt in the U.S. Air Force. That ceremony involved my mother and my aunt each pinning the gold bar rank insignia on the shoulders of my uniform. Three weeks later, I entered the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program.

In 1967, after returning from a combat tour in Vietnam, The Daily Olympian newspaper had a full-page tribute for National Newspaperboy Day. This was a salute to their 171 Junior Dealers. They featured me as one of their Junior Dealers (1955-1959), who saved his earnings and paid his college tuition, and had recent combat tour accomplishments as a 1Lt in the U.S. Air Force.

We no longer have newspaper boys as we knew then… but I’m grateful for what I was able to accomplish by delivering papers, and the path for this first-generation college student, an opportunity that my parents and grandparents didn’t have.

My education at the University of Washington and the motivation from my life experiences opened doors of opportunity. From one who entered college, and hadn’t yet experienced flight in an airplane, and chose flying as a career. I am grateful for my 26 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, and a follow-on career flying for FedEx.

“My work experience, alongside and observing other trade jobs, played a key role in why I wanted a college education.”James, ’64

Yolonda Williams, ‘05

Being a First Generation College Student means the world to me. I grew up watching shows like “A Different World” and “The Cosby Show” that were the only shows that portrayed black and brown folks in a positive, academic, successful and professional light. I knew that was what I wanted to do. They promoted the fact that knowledge is for everyone, information is a resource and available to everyone.

I didn’t have anyone in my family that went to college or even attempted to make the jump into higher education. So I was proud to be the first, but not the last…

I think I helped open the door to what was once seen as an impossibility in my family. And I am so glad UW is a part of that story.

College was always the goal for my life from a very young age. I was well aware of the privilege that exists for those with a college education. And the fact that not too far in the distant history of our country I would have been denied access to my dream of a college degree. That drove me and continues to drive me to complete the full scope of higher education. Earning every degree in my lifetime. I am currently working on my doctorate.

The best thing about my college experience thus far was moving away from my family and attending Eastern Washington University for the first three years of college. It forced me to step outside what I was familiar with and grow up. I needed it. And I came back home ready to give it all I had. Working full time while wrapping up my education at UW! My dream school and my proudest achievement academically to date. Getting my acceptance letter after the Comprehensive Entrance Exam was the second highlight of my career. I always wanted to attend the UW and I was so excited to be a Husky. Finally, getting my Lifetime Alumni card in the mail was my third highlight, LOL. I have a lot, I love education and learning. But having that card means I accomplished something and am recognized for that and it means the world to me.

For support I turned mostly to my family just for encouragement. No one can complete the journey for you, so you have to find the strength to get through hard challenges. I also have a strong faith in God and I know he’ll never bring me to something that he hasn’t already equipped me to get through it.

What advice would I give to my college self? Stay focused, don’t listen to the people that told you that you can’t complete the program in the timeline you’ve set for yourself. I would say it gets easier, just keep pushing through. All the hard work is worth it in the end. And we were built to do hard things, nothing is impossible and you were born to be great!

“I think I helped open the door to what was once seen as an impossibility in my family.” –Yolonda, ’05


Elton Charles Wright, ’76

First Generation graduate… had not really thought of that label… My dad did go to Gonzaga for two years but was advised to get a job and make babies… my dad did survive WWII, Pacific… and had training in electronics of the time, but the attempt at electrical engineering degree was advised against… not sure if my mom finished high school or not… they were both born in the early 1920’s… from very rural places… their upbringing as survivors and doers by example earned my respect and affected my outlook… My dad’s attempt at university left him with a mostly positive outlook on education… he kept learning to support a family of a stay-at-home mom and 5 kids… I am the eldest… in time all of us added to our educations beyond high school levels…

Going to college was a cultural expectation… So the 70’s were my college /university decade… I worked at the lumbermill my dad was working at during summers mostly to earn money for school, living at home when not in a dorm… First it was Tacoma Community College, got most of the general stuff for distributions out of the way… got some art training in that time… was thinking of Botany and drawing could have been useful tool… got the social sciences out of the way there. Got my Associate of Arts and Science degree done on time… Got accepted to University of Washington in Fall 1973, lived in the top floor of the Terry Hall dorm…. Why did I not visit Vietnam at this time… the draft lottery got classified as 1-H (don’t even go for a physical) my number was so high it was not a worry for me.

So first quarter I had to wait for the higher level biology that biology/botany/medical students were required to take… the permission to take it was something I did not know about until registering for classes, so got a Science Fiction class (writing class) and a Genetics 451 class, that did not require the biology series first… got an Ace in that class, it was an interest before university… I did in the following 2 quarters double up a couple of the required Bio 210/211/212 so I did get that done in first year… I had figured to finish in 3 years at UW and get a good balance of science, my Math was done at TCC to beyond requirements.

So things like Geology, Atmospheric Sciences were among the non-Botany classes when I had space, I did not do any business or Art classes at UW… complications in earning money happened the summer before my 3rd year…. strike at lumbermill after I got on for one day, we are a union family… so no work that summer… I don’t consider myself a very good job hunter, but my expenses were low… no car, no girlfriend so savings got me to Winter ’76 when I got my BS in Botany end of Winter quarter instead of spring… I did have to borrow $200 from my parents and work in the dorm dining room as a server for less than minimum wage ($2/ hour was my wage)… After that little setback… I decided to work a year and a half to pay back parents and save money for 2 more years… did that okay with the lumbermill, actually got enough time to apply to my pension plan.

Started my 2 more years as a 5th year student, decide to change to Zoology major to get classes I wanted, I was into the Mycology classes, with my flexibility of what I could take I could have added a BA in Zoology with 5 more credits in a vertebrate class, but was not into the dissection of vertebrates, I had been disjointing whole chicken for cooking way before that… I had a pretty good idea about analogous structures in vertebrates… study of bugs was more useful for a Botanist… in that extra 2 years I even took a basic physics class for non-majors the 2 quarter version… it did not require calculus but I had that anyway, so when the professor was trying to fill in the math I had that anyway…

“The last years were the best ones… I did not have too work and do school at same time…” — Elton, ’76

The last years were the best ones… I even hosted a D&D game in my last two quarters in the dorm… I did not have too work and do school at same time… I finished in Spring of 1979 with what I wanted… My Mycology professor retired from teaching in ’79 also… was good with my BS from ’76 plus two years. Got what I wanted with no outstanding debt from schooling… the Golden Years for students I guess.

I had family support during that time getting to TCC for two years was getting dropped off by my dad on his way to work… and the walk home was two miles… found about 150 agates in the same stretch of road gravel plus a few coins and a truck driver paid me a buck for helping him get a nut/bolt loosened to change valve for switching fuel tanks… I did get more social in the dorm but didn’t having much play money… I have the memory of helping to paint the mural that was done in Rainer House… did the bushes… the mural is gone… the lead artist died… drugs… the dorm is gone… I did not see the Huskies play… was not into it much. I think most of my professors are dead by now… I did have a crush on a nice girl, but other things started happening in life. I did get hired by another lumbermill on the same pension plan… that I am living on now…

Advice… to people going school after high school… Community Colleges are a good place to consider what path you really want… my younger brother did a scholarship to MIT and did the loan route, he got his double degrees in engineering and finance… got a good job from it… for me Botany became more of a hobby… the lumbermill paid better than ‘grain inspector.’ One of my sisters did the business route and got a job managing… another sister did army between wars… later did schooling in programing and later from a secretary job became a creator and manager of an IT department for a company… My littlest sister in time after doing bartending got trained as an Aerospace Assembly Mechanic when Boeing was doing the training… She did work on most of the 747 line of planes, you may have flown on a plane she worked on… I have niece that did university and is working in Geology and another that trained as a dental assistant… working… and so on… our paths in life can be very different, maybe my going to University and my brother going also has set expectations for my parents’ grand- and great-grandkids to attend school in some form beyond the basic high school… I did not need my degrees for work, but I have found it valuable to have done it… it even allows me to understand the way a pandemic would progress a bit better than average that don’t have the biological training… learning is valuable…

To keep costs down consider the Community Colleges… consider transferring to a University if they offer what you need… pick the brains of any advisors… you can find out about costs and how you can get what you want… but also once you find out what need… like that permission for a bottleneck class… they may exist in other majors… find out what programs will accept for transfer credits… most of mine applied, my PE credits at TCC was required for the TCC degree but not for the UW degree… know what you need several years out… can you cut your expenses to a minimum? What kind of job can you get to pay before going… while going… and after you get what you want… after the last lumbermill I worked for shut down I got retraining grant from feds… got my certification, but the demand for the job I retrained for, the training center put on so many training slots… the job market got flooded… that retraining did not get me a job before I retired. That whole job market dance is a whole different skill to be aware of… and social media hazards…

“Community Colleges are a good place to consider what path you really want.”
—Elton, ’76