Saturday, April 7, 2012
Growing up, I was always told by my family that I could be whatever I wanted. I believed these statements and never doubted that I would go to college. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school, and I was ultimately the first person to go to college. Yet, I still had no doubt that I would go to college and I had no concept of the barriers that face most first generation college students. I was naïve. In fact, I didn’t even start to think about how I would pay for college until my junior year of high school, when I started to look at college applications.
I couldn’t afford most college application fees, and I only applied to two schools: a small private school in California that I absolutely loved and a mid-sized public university in Alaska where I had been offered a tuition scholarship for my first year. I was accepted to both schools, but I was forced to make the practical choice and I enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) because it was the school that I could most likely afford. Keep in mind, I still hadn’t really figured out how I would pay for everything, but I knew that a full tuition scholarship would go a lot further towards covering my costs.
During the second semester of my freshman year, I became a Resident Assistant. I then served as an undergraduate hall director (Community Advisor) during my junior and senior years. Through my involvement on campus, I fell in love with UAF. The positions that I held in residence life made it possible for me to continue in college with few worries about the cost of college because they provided stipends and housing. It dawned on my after my first year in residence life that I was making as much in my student position as my mom was making in her role as a waitress. My mom had spent her life serving others as a waitress, and now I was serving others as a resident assistant. The irony wasn't lost on me.
The connections that I made with professional and student staff at UAF were the most influential part of my college experience. The friendships that I built during my time at UAF continue to be an important part of my life. The mentoring from my supervisors and the skills and experience that I gained as a part of the Residence Life team led me to Student Affairs as a profession. These supportive connections made a real difference in my persistence in college and I wanted to do the same for other students.
Since graduating from college, I’ve earned two masters degrees and I’m now working on a doctorate. I currently serve as Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life at Lake Forest College and I get to make a difference in the lives of students on a daily basis. I didn’t go to college expecting to begin a career in student affairs – few of us do – but I’m glad that residence life led me here.