My Ashford | First-Generation College Student
More and more students, faculty, and staff are joining in on the movement and sharing their stories. These stories—your unique experience and perspective on life at Ashford—doesn't go unnoticed. Here to share her academic journey is Christy Fraenza, Online Writing Consultant in Ashford's Writing Center.
A college education is not always about what we learn in the classroom. The course content and skills we learn are clearly important, but the connections we make with people can completely change our thinking and perspectives. A short conversation with a psychology professor at the end of my undergraduate program was one of those times where a person altered my course in life and set me up to take on challenges in my education and career.
Before I get into specific details about my journey to complete a BA, MS, and PhD in psychology, I have to tell you a bit about where I started. I am from a small, rural town in Pennsylvania, and a working-class family. My parents both had high school diplomas, but nobody in my family had gone to college. I was a first-generation college student, with nobody in my family to help me understand college applications, the college experience, or financial aid. It was overwhelming. A long journey, to say the least.
Even though I was intimidated and overwhelmed, I felt this need to go further with my education. So, without doing any real research, I picked a nearby, small state university after high school graduation. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had not made a good choice. The campus was not a good fit for me; I hated my courses; and I was just generally unhappy. I walked away after a semester and a half feeling completely defeated.
People told me that I would never go back and finish. But, my dad told me the best way to prove people wrong was to succeed. Honestly, I was really driven to prove people wrong. So, after a few months off, I enrolled in a branch campus of a university located in my hometown. I liked those courses, and having connections to the community helped me feel less isolated. Most importantly, in those courses, I gained confidence. That confidence pushed me to a large, state university to finish my degree.
On this new campus, I loved my courses and the people I met. I had faculty who were supportive, and one gave me opportunities to become involved in research. That faculty member was the person who really changed my perspective about higher education. One day he asked me if I had plans for graduate school. I had not even thought about it. His response was simply, “Why not?”
Before that question, it never occurred to me that graduate school was an option for me. As a first-generation college student, finishing an undergraduate degree was a huge deal already. But that simple question set me on a path to keep going. I decided why not? Eventually, I went on to complete a master’s and a PhD, all thanks to the simple question that told me that regardless of my background, I could do more.
Don’t get me wrong, the path wasn’t easy.I still struggled with feeling like an imposter, but a simple conversation with someone who saw possibilities I didn’t changed my perspective. Even today, whenever presented with a new challenge or a new professional opportunity, such as writing a chapter in a book, I always hear that mentor’s voice asking, “Why not?”
Written by Christy Fraenza, Writing Center