Faculty Stories of Inspiration

First-Generation Faculty Mentoring Program

at Indiana State University


ISU takes pride in the relationships that students are able to develop with the faculty and staff they encounter. This mentoring program for first-generation students by faculty members who were first generation college students themselves can benefit mentees through a common college experience with their mentors. Two mentors' stories of their experiences are illustrative.


I was a first generation college student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. I grew up in Portland, Maine. Two of my uncles went to college but neither of my parents did. My parents were very young when they had me (17!) and were not able to go to school and support a family at the same time. My mom finished college at age 49 several years ago. I don’t know that I had any special experiences as a first generation student, other than I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know how to navigate the financial aid, administration and other paperwork. We also struggled a bit with costs, especially in our first year, so I got scholarships and loans.

 -Concetta DePaolo, Professor, Operations Management & Analysis.


As background, I grew up in Bloomington, IN and came from a family with a single mother who was in the Army. I attended Indiana University for both undergrad and then grad school. I then lived in southern California for 8 years before getting a job at ISU (in August) and moving back to what I feel like is home! So here I am, the first person in my family to navigate academia! Here’s the text from a recent blog post on the subject of being a first generation student.

 This university actually cares. There's a strong focus on teaching and supporting students on this campus, one that I didn't really notice when I was at my alma mater. I suppose that's what happens when you go to a smaller college, where the class sizes are somewhat manageable and you actually get to have a relationship with faculty as an undergrad, instead of being handled by an overworked grad student.

 You are here to go to school. Not support your parents or your siblings or anyone else. Really. And school, well it's hard and it's a full time job. Thankfully my mom understood this, but I know a lot of first gen college students really struggle with family commitments, especially if they still live at home.

 Participate in stuff. Join things that interest you. You will never get another chance like this in your life. And right now, you will be able to meet all sorts of people and start that foundation of your future friends and colleagues. It might feel awkward, but really - they are always looking for fresh blood to help out!! Try to live on campus if you can. I missed out on that dorm experience, since I couldn't afford it. Also, living on campus helps you concentrate on your studies, well theoretically at least!

 Find a mentor! Once I got into my professional career, I discovered how valuable this was. My family did not understand what I was going through for the most part. And I didn't have any friends in my first job in a city on the opposite end of the country from where I grew up. Thinking back on my undergrad experience, there were people there who were actually reaching out to try to become my mentors. I just never realized it.

 I guess the bottom line is that college is so much more than the classes that you are taking. It's a time for building relationships, learning what you want to do for the rest of your life, and coming into adulthood. Try to savor the experience, or endure it if that's how you feel. And from one first gen academic to all the other first gens out there -- they aren't really smarter than you, they just had people who went before them who could advise them. They didn't have to pave the way. That's your job, for your kids. :)

- Heather Rayl, Emerging Technologies Librarian.