Thursday, March 22, 2012
Matt Dikeman - Re-gifting
Education is a true gift, the size, shape, and cost may change but the greatest gift an individual can receive is an education. My identification as a first-generation college student did not begin until after I had graduated from my undergraduate institution. However, I was keenly aware of the fact that I was different than some of my peers throughout my undergraduate career. I attended a predominantly white institution in the Midwest. My skin color, socioeconomic background, religious beliefs, and geographical location growing up were not much different than the majority of students at my institution. With this in mind, why was it that I felt a little less prepared than other students? Why did I feel slightly unaware of larger global issues than my peers? Why were my parents somewhat disengaged from my college search process? All of these answers I have found relate back to my classification as a first-generation college student.
When searching for a college that fit my needs, I was self-motivated to do so. Many of my peers had parents who were setting up college visits for them, arranging meetings with professors that they knew from their college careers, and taking them to ACT test preparation and practice sessions to help improve their score. They were improving their score not to get accepted to a university, but to get more scholarship money. I had not even thought of that idea at that point in time. When I visited my first college, it was my first time on a college campus. I had never been to a college sports game, never been to a music recital, or theatre production. I do not know what I expected, but whatever it was…it was not what I received. I felt unwelcome, like a burden to those whose paths I crossed. The university wanted to show us the campus and the residence halls, but did not seem to care about who I was as a student, or what I wanted to gain from a college experience.
After that first visit I was turned off from the college concept. It seemed elitist, and a place where I would not fit in. After conveying this experience to my brother who is two years older than me, he suggested I visit his university. He said that he felt welcome, and he thought I would enjoy the experience it provided. I reluctantly decided to visit. The institution that was at the bottom of my list quickly advanced to the top. Coming from a small community, I did not want to attend the same institution as my brother. The welcoming feeling and overall sense of respect that I received was astounding. I went home and canceled all of my applications and campus visit days, I applied to that institution and never looked back.
Secretly, I think I found comfort in the fact that I knew someone on a campus that at the time seemed large and overwhelming. The institution did not do anything super special for me as a first-generation student, except they made me feel at home. I was welcomed into the community in the residence halls; I was encouraged to get involved both inside and outside of the classroom. I had professors who engaged and supported me through my academics, and professionals who supported me outside of the walls of the class. Because of this support, I began to involve myself in residence life, student government, academic based clubs, and orientation. Through all of these experiences, a passion began to build inside of me to help others. It was through my work as an orientation leader and orientation intern that I found my passion for helping students who do not know what questions to ask, or where to find the answers to the questions that they have. As a professional, I am looking forward to crossing paths with all students and helping them through their transition to college life, but the students who identify as first-generation students will always have a special place in my heart. It is through them, that I can repay the kindness that was shown to me throughout my undergraduate experience. The greatest gift of all is the encouragement that I can give to students to be successful. The first student that I encouraged who was a first-generation college student, was my mom. She graduated this past December with a degree in nursing. She encouraged and supported me as much as she could or knew how, and once I knew how to help and encourage her, I re-gifted.