Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nicci Cisarik - How did I get here?

     Female, student, friend, advocate, sister, daughter, leader.  All words which identify who I am.  However, it was not until recently that I added a new identifier to my list—first generation.

     If you would have asked me four years ago as I entered college, “What does it mean to be a first generation college student?”  I would have looked at you blankly because I would not have had a clue about what you were asking me.  It was not until recently that I learned what it actually meant to be a first generation college student and that I am in fact one.  I find it strange that that I made it through four years of college and it was not until I started my Master’s program in Student Affairs that I truly understood the term.  What is even more bizarre is the fact that I ended up on the Student Affairs route.  How does a first generation student like myself, someone who going into college knew absolutely nothing about collegiate life, student activities, admissions processes, advising and the like, end up pursuing a career in it?

     I attended Dominican University, a liberal arts college outside of Chicago, where I began my time there like most undergrads—confused, uninformed, and uninvolved.  Did I want to attend college?  In some capacity, yes, but for the most part as a first year student, the only reason I was there was to get a degree so I could “get a good job and make a lot of money”—at least this was the ideal instilled in my head by my parents and the rest of society.  However, when I got to college I realized that money was not going to make me happy.  I decided to double major in Photography and Painting, a field that does not bring in much money, much to my parents dismay.  I do not come from a poor family, but I do not come from a rich family either.  I would say we are comfortable, yet it always feels like we are always living paycheck-to-paycheck.  My parents always wanted my sister and I to have the life they did not so attending college and attaining a bachelor’s degree was necessary.  I scared them when I told them I wanted to study art—mainly because I was attending a university that cost $33, 000 a year and I was taking out about $20,000 a year in loans to pay for it.  Pursing a career that brought in less a year than my undergraduate tuition worried them. They lightened up eventually and supported my decision. Though, they still hate how much debt I have accumulated over the four years.  However, as you can see from this story, I did not pursue art post-graduation.  Something happened while I was at DU that put me on a different career path.

     During my sophomore year, my mentality did a complete turnover.  The summer before my sophomore year, I was an orientation leader for new student orientation—it was that experience which opened my eyes to a completely new world of ideas and experiences.  I began to learn more about the college processes and why being involved as an undergrad was so important.  That fall I began to further explore campus activities by becoming a student worker in Dominican’s, Student Involvement Resource Center (SIRC).  This office quickly became my home-away-home.  Although I resided on campus, I spent most of my time in the SIRC—the people I worked with became my family and the staff was my mentors.  It was this position as a student worker and a simple sentence spoken by my supervisor, Rachel that put me on the path to student affairs.  I was working one day, and I had not been working more than half a semester when Rachel came in to the SIRC and told me that she wanted to promote me to Senior Student Worker the next year.  I was blown away!  Was I that great of a worker?  I did not think I was a bad worker, but I did not see myself as Senior Student Worker material either.  However, Rachel saw something else in me that I did not—especially if she told me she wanted to promote me an entire year before I would even get the promotion.  Rachel’s confidence in me is what helped me form the confidence I needed to put myself on student affairs track and take on the different student leadership opportunities that I did throughout my time at DU.

After that, the rest is history. I continued my involvement in extra curriculars throughout my time in college which included holding executive board positions in our Student Government and Programming Board, as well as being a Student Ambassador, and Student Minister. It was these experiences,  and those that I worked with that put me on the path to student affairs. I love college, and working with college students. Being a college student was the most rewarding time of my life, and I want to be there for students and help them experience how wonderful a college education can be.

1 comment:

  1. Nicci,

    Thanks for sharing your story! Although I'm not a 1st-gen student, I can definitely connect with your experience as an orientation leader. The same experience is what brought me into student affairs. Just yesterday, I opened a book, and out fell a picture of the 13 orientation leaders I worked with. Today, 7 of them are either student affairs graduate students or about to be. I saw four of them at TPE.

    As I move through the job search process, I think of people like Rachel, who you described--those people who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. It's those people that continue to reaffirm my belief that I WILL get a job before the next academic year starts--because people continue to believe in me, like you describe Rachel doing for you. The greatest part is that we get to be "Rachels" for students now! :)