Many would say I come from an underprivileged background. Besides being bused to other neighborhoods for school (due to desegregation decades before), I knew of nothing different, and to me where I lived was not that bad. My neighborhood had drug dealers, gangs, and its share of crime. Thankfully, I never had to “do without” anything–as I was the only child, and my parents were able to provide all I needed and more. However, I always had one disadvantage– I had no guidance when it came to my plans for the future or career goals set.
My parents were both high school graduates, and very encouraging of me when it came to my education, yet we never had an official discussion of my college plans. It’s not that they did not approve of me going, I think they just didn’t know it was a conversation that we were supposed to have. They may not have known where to start. I had no trust fund, or college savings set aside. I did not know what a FAFSA was. I didn’t have the confidence to tryout for a music scholarship opportunity that I was invited to attend. I had lost focus on my track and field career. I but knew that I wanted to attend college, and that I wanted to be an educator.
Due to my fear, and lack of experience and guidance in the college process, I knew that I would stay close to home my freshman year of college, and then I would transfer to another university out of town once I figured things out, and saved some money. I enrolled at Wichita State University for the Fall of 1997, and was offered a scholarship and grants that covered the full amount of my tuition. In the spring, I realized that I would not be staying at Wichita State, as my scholarship was only a one-year freshman scholarship. I made the decision to transfer the next school year to Kansas State University. This is where I gained a full college experience in a traditional “college town”. I learned school pride (Go Wildcats!). I gained a “connection” to the university. It felt like home. I was truly “on my own”, but it still felt like home. It was there that I realized that I was blessed to be in the situation. Many people where I came from, didn’t make it that far. There were many days that I would be walking on the beautiful Kansas State campus, with well manicured landscaping and castle-like buildings, and just smile and take it all in– I knew the experience was special, and that it would not last forever.
However, there was another side. I always felt a step behind my peers who had relatives who had attended college before. Sometimes I learned the “hard way”, by trial and error. There were days in which I shed tears, missed my hometown, and really didn’t know how I would make it through the semester– financially, emotionally, or academically. I wondered why no one hardly ever visited me, and I wanted them to see how I was living the college life. At one point, I took out my first school loan (big regret), because I had no where else to turn to pay for my housing. I learned really fast that I had to be accountable for my learning and well being. I learned to not be afraid to ask people questions. I learned to take any free resources or opportunities that were available. I worked three jobs. I met new (now life-long) friends. I learned how to budget (I had no choice but to). I learned my strengths and weaknesses. I learned how to communicate, and most importantly, I learned how to survive. I found that most of the lessons I learned, were outside of the classroom.
It took me five years to graduate (due to transferring and losing credits), but I accomplished my goal of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in the Fall of 2002. I then went on to continue my education, and sought a Master’s degree. It was at this point in my life that my career in education began professionally–I got my first teaching job, and the seed was planted in me to become a professor by Dr. Marjorie Hancock, one of my professors while working on my Masters. Before graduating and moving to a new state in 2004, she told me, “You’ll teach for a few years, and then work on your Doctorate”. The thought had never crossed my mind, until that day. She believed that I could do it. That was highly respectable to hear coming from her, and I doubt she even knew how important her words were. After that point, I could never get her suggested “plan” out of my head.
I taught for about five years, and got joy out of finding new ways to make teaching and learning more exciting, and I became actively involved in my profession and on my campus . I had taken a break from college for about four years, when I began the process of going after the “plan” that most thought was unnecessary, and didn’t quite understand the significance–but I loved to teach and learn, and I loved the college experience. I was asked countless times, “What are you going to do with that degree”? Or comments such as, “You won’t make that much more money” were thrown at me. I remained focused on the goal/plan that I could not let go of.
When applying for graduate school for my final degree, some schools only looked at my application through the lens of my GRE score. One school told me that I needed to “strengthen my application”, as I had an above average writing score, but the other sections were only average or slightly below. I almost quit, before I ever got a chance, but then the opportunity came.
It took five long years of sacrifices and major tests of faith, but I walked across the stage as a Texas Southern University graduate in May 2013, with a Doctoral degree. The feat I accomplished was one that no one in my family or extended family had ever experienced. I now understood why the small percentage of those who earned the highest obtainable degree were so particular about being called “Doctor”. It is an honor, and a sign of respect, and it was a grueling process.
I am now entering a new phase in life. I would like to become the first college professor in my family. I am not your traditional “scholar”. I am a first-generation college student. I understand my students’ struggles of working several jobs. I came from a poor neighborhood. I had to learn the college “system” on my own, and I want to humbly share my experience with my students– as I know that having first-hand knowledge and understanding their experiences builds trust, confidence, and pride in the college education journey.
Although I am extremely grateful, I am currently in a limited part-time higher education faculty role. I am still learning the process of what it takes to find my “home” as a university professor. I do not have any special connections to faculty members, that would give me an advantage over other candidates. Just like my first years of being an undergraduate student, I often find myself feeling as if I am a “step behind”. One advantage that I do have, is that although I am not the traditional “scholar”, I am always a professional, intensely dedicated, passionate, and hardworking–and I will NEVER forget to put myself in my students’ shoes. I am ready to find my university “home”, and I am bringing a massive amount of first generation college student baggage. If the university near you is smart, they will welcome a professor with that type of “baggage”. It is much needed to understand and meet the needs of today’s generation of students. I want to help students through their college struggles. I get joy out of seeing others meet their goals. Students shouldn’t have to struggle their way through, blindly. Higher education, you need me. I’d like to apply for your opening.