Meet First Generation Faculty at Indiana State

Matthew Bergbower, Assistant Professor, Political Science.
I was a first-generation college student and could be of some help to those ISU students who are also first-generation. I grew up in a rural setting and went to college near my hometown, just like many of our students from the surrounding counties. I attended a community college for two years prior to transferring to Eastern Illinois University. Hence, I have particular empathy for transfer students.

Tim Boileau, Instructor, Curriculum, Instruction, and Media Technology.
I grew up the son of a machinist in Detroit, Michigan. My journey into higher education began with my joining the Air Force at age 17. I enlisted to gain access to technical training and the GI Bill. I completed my Associate of Science degree during my service by attending classes on and off base, followed by a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. as a civilian. I became a lifelong learner and my entire career has focused on helping others to learn and acquire new skills in a rapidly changing world. As a full-time faculty member, I have the privilege of guiding others along their journey at ISU.

Concetta DePaolo, Professor, Operations Management & Analysis.
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.

 Karen Evans, Associate Librarian, Library Services.
Two of my degrees are from IU Bloomington and a third is from ISU. My father was career military and we moved to Indiana when he retired. I’ve grown up in Indiana. There were no discussions in my family about the possibility of me attending college. It was always assumed I would attend and complete coursework for a degree. I worked two jobs to complete both degrees at IU, so I am familiar with some of the difficulties students encounter with time and money in completing a degree. I have never really thought about being a first generation student and if that presented any special difficulties for me. I do not think it mattered; completing my degrees was something I had the desire and drive to do. When I attended university, helicopter parents did not exist (thankfully!), but my parents certainly encouraged education and did everything possible to ensure my success. They were a tremendous source of support.

Tad Foster, Professor, Human Resource Development & Performance Technology.
I grew up in the country in southern Maine. My parents had 6 boys and I was the oldest; neither parent finished high school traditionally. I had one older cousin on my mother’s side who became a teacher. Before me, she was the only one I knew in our family to go to college. I was a fair student (mostly Bs). During my senior year, I had a run in with the administration over a sick day which made me quite upset and I vowed to never go to school again. The previous year, I scored an 890 combined on the SAT and I saw no need to go on then either. However, I did have the opportunity to listen to an Air Force recruiter and decided to take the ASVAB, a test of academic and occupational aptitude in the military. The result is that I maxed out all categories and they really wanted me. There it was, a way out of the State of Maine and a way to leave home with a reasonable job. So I went in and was selected to attend the second longest technical school in the Air Force (so much for the “I will never go to school again” promise). As graduation from that training approached, I was asked where I wanted to be stationed. Given the choices, I really did not want to leave Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, and I had just learned that it was possible to come right out of technical school and become an instructor at the same school. My grades were good enough, so I applied. Surprise, I was given the opportunity to teach others how to maintain an air to ground nuclear missile before I turned 19 years of age. I loved it! And one thing led to another and this year I am celebrating my 40th year as a professional educator. Not only did I not fulfill my promise to never go to school again. I have gone to school almost every day of my adult life; I’m just on the other side of the desk.

Gail Gottschling, Assistant Professor, Elementary, Early, and Special Education.
I was a first generation college student. I grew up in Chicago, and attended Southern Illinois University for my undergraduate degree, and Pacific Oaks College for my graduate degree. My parents valued education, and saved carefully for my education. They were very supportive and attended orientation programs with me, but did not have any experience in the workings of a university. I was able to negotiate my way through a university education, financial aid, student work, etc. without much of a struggle, but perhaps those were simpler times! Although I ultimately transferred to SIU, I started out at Illinois State University. This was a random choice, and turned out to be a bad fit. It would have been helpful to have a mentor to help me decide on the best placement, etc.

Melissa Nail, Associate Professor, Elementary, Early, and Special Education.
 

Heather Rayl, Emerging Technologies Librarian.
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. :)

N. Ann Rider, Associate Professor, German and Women’s Studies
I’m the first and only member of my immediate family to go to college. While my family valued education, they did not think a girl needed to go to college, and so they did not support me initially. I commuted from home the first year, which saved money. But since my family didn’t understand that studying in college was a full-time job (in addition to my part-time cashier job), they thought that the family, childcare, and housework should be more important priorities for me. Based on my own experience, my advice to students who work or commute from home is this: find a place where you can focus on your studies (mine was the library; I practically lived there!). Believe and demand that you have a right to the space and the time to devote to your education!

I was able to move into the Honors dorm my second year. What I learned there changed my life! These folks knew how to prioritize: they studied regularly at the same time very day. They weren’t social nerds, like I thought; they went out and partied like the other students. But they always made studying a priority, and I learned from them how to prioritize, set up a study schedule, and stick to it. I always recommend to struggling students that they start by setting up a study schedule. It helps! Throughout my undergraduate education I had to “stop out,” to make enough money for the next semester. Many students face this prospect and fear that working full-time and having money will make it hard to come back to the life of a student. While it might be true, I found that working full-time just made me miss the opportunity to learn and be engaged in the life of the mind all the more. So I always came back to college.

I realized that my real passion was literature, and I wanted to major in German. My family tried to talk me out of it, said it wasn’t practical, that I’d never find a job (at that time I didn’t want to teach). But I refused to listen to those who believed that I didn’t need (or have the right to) a liberal arts education. And when I graduated, I got a position right away in the personnel department of a major grocery store chain. They in fact valued my liberal arts education! My advice to first-gen students is to follow your passion and talent, even if it might not seem practical to others. While practical considerations may rule many aspects of your life, how you spend the rest of your professional life must be doing something that inspires your passion!

JaDora Sailes, Assistant Professor, Communication Disorders and Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology
 

Felicia Stewart, Assistant Professor, Advanced Practice Nursing.
I remember the anxiety from 20 years ago being the first in my family to go to college. I had a few cousins who had gone on before me to school, but my parents hadn’t and certainly neither had my grandparents. My cousins were older than me so I didn’t have anyone to talk to about what to expect or how to be successful in my studies. To say it was nerve-wracking is an understatement. So, why did I do it? Because I wanted to become a nurse and going to college was the only avenue to reach that goal. I had made good grades in high school, so I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship for four years of tuition. The next step was to keep the scholarship and earn my degree. Now, 20 year later, I am a new faculty member at the same place I was a college freshman 20 years ago. Yes, I have a few degrees under my belt now. I am an ISU alum four times over: AS in 1994, BS in 1996, MS in 2007, and most recently, I was in the first Doctorate of Nursing graduating classes from ISU. I’m ready for my new adventure!

Larry Tinnerman, Assistant Professor, Instructor, Curriculum, Instruction, and Media Technology.
 

Anna Viviani, Assistant Professor, Counseling Programs.
I grew up in a very small town in southeast Iowa with working class parents. There were few aspirations for me to go on to college as my parents were the first to graduate from high school in our family. That was the expectation. My grandmother, however, hoped I’d go on to college to be a nurse and by high school it was pretty much decided within the family that I would go to junior college and become a nurse to care for family members in my community. I did apply, was accepted, and began a nursing program at the community college. Unfortunately my father became ill from cancer and died during that same time. I had no support at school. At home I was working nearly fulltime (two jobs at one point) and caring for my family. As my grades began to suffer, I questioned what I was doing and shortly after my father passed away, I quit the nursing program and then school altogether.

After many years, I tried to go back to school and was told by an admissions officer that I wasn’t college material based on previous grades. He told me to try a vocational program at a community college. Well, I did go to community college again and worked to bring my grades up. I then went on to a four-year university and finally received my bachelor’s degree. Shortly after that, I was accepted into a master’s program where I was embraced and nurtured. After working in my field for a number of years, I returned to college and with the support of the faculty, earned my PhD. I am now employed within the College of Education as a Counselor Educator. Without the support of my spouse and then the amazing faculty I have met, I would not have achieved so much.

Anonymous. Like many of the students at ISU, I too was a first generation student born and raised in Southwestern Indiana (Lynnville). My community boasted approximately 500 residents and pulled together three small towns to accommodate the high school (Tecumseh Jr/Sr High School). I graduated in 1987 in the top 10% of my class with a total of 76 classmates. My mom still lives in the community (my father passed away in 2006) and many of the students I graduated high school with do as well. Growing up, there was no ethnic diversity in my town. Everyone looked like me, shared the same values, and acted like me. Colleagues often find it hard to believe when I them there was only one African-American male in my school for one year during my entire K-12 experience. Exposure to classmates and faculty with different cultures and backgrounds was an eye-opening experience. Pick-up trucks and the hope for either a family farm or a job in the coal mine were the top aspirations for my fellow classmates. For those of us who went on to college, many of the young women received degrees in education while the young men often pursued trade related degrees. I was fortunate to receive an athletic scholarship in softball and volleyball at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, KY. As I began my academic and athletic experience, I felt completely unprepared for the challenges of higher education beginning with how to study; budgeting my time; outside responsibilities; and the lure of fun. I can remember one of the worst pieces of advice I received from my high school guidance counselor that I often used as an excuse to not study was when she told us that if we received A’s in high school we could expect to make C’s in college. In hindsight, I wonder how she ever thought that made sense and more importantly how did I accept the concept other than it justified the C’s that I received in my introductory courses.