Face-to-Face with First-Gen

The poster for the 1st Generation and Proud awareness campaign to support the first-generation community here at Chico State from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

With more than 50 percent of our students the first generation in their families to complete a four-year degree, this fall the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is launching an awareness campaign to support the first-generation community here at Chico State.

Faculty, staff, and students who are first-generation themselves participated in the campaign, showing their diversity, solidarity, and support of students who are striving toward the same goal. In the September issue, we shared stories of three participants about what it means to be first-gen, and after three additional stories in the October issue, three more share their stories here.




Amalia Rodas, first-gen

Name:  Amalia Rodas 

Hometown: Escondido, California  

Role on Campus: Graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree

Years on campus: 7 

Did you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I did not have plans to continue on to graduate school. I came in as a pre-nursing major without even thinking about how much I dislike taking blood and vaccines. It took me five years to get through my undergrad degree, and that was a huge accomplishment for me since I almost dropped out when I first came to Chico. It took me a while to get used to the different place and people, and to learn how much I love and value education.  

Why did you choose Chico? I got accepted to four CSUs—San Marcos, East Bay, San Bernardino, and Chico. My favorite high school teacher, Lance Keller, came to Chico State, so that was truly a main influence in my decision-making. I remember thinking in high school that I wouldn’t come to college because I didn’t know about financial aid. Chico ended up offering me the most money, and that finalized my decision.  

What first sparked your interest in a college education? My parents have always told me that we came to this country so that my siblings and I can have more opportunities than they did. My father loves learning. He used to try to make time to read our high school textbooks sometimes. I think that seeing his passion for education but not having the time nor money to attend a university himself continuously pushed me to do what I could. In a way, it was a feeling that I couldn’t let my parents down because they made so many sacrifices when we were younger. The least I could do was fulfill one of their biggest dreams—I owed that to them.  

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? The feeling of not belonging at the university is huge. When you’re in a room with students who are expressing themselves so eloquently, who can put their thoughts into words that people know what they are saying, and who seem to fully understand the material in class and what’s being asked by the professors, I think that the imposter syndrome is very real but that we don’t talk about it much. Asking for help is also a barrier. It took me a long time to go to a professor’s office hours, to sign up for tutoring, and even to find someone I fully trusted and then tell them “this is what I’m going through and I need some guidance.” 

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? There are many people at Chico State I see as mentors and inspirations. However, Thia Wolf would definitely deserve credit for a lot of my improvements and successes. I first started working for her my sophomore year. I remember that, among other things, I wouldn’t show up to meetings and I’d be late to work but she didn’t fire me. She saw potential in me when anyone else might have thought I was just lazy. Honestly, the woman I am today is in great part because of the support she has provided. There’s a difference between the people that tell you you’re capable and people like her; that genuinely make you feel cared for and make you believe you belong here. I plan on paying it forward as much as I can in the future because I don’t know how I got so lucky to have her not ever give up on me.  

What does being first-gen mean to you? First-gen to me means I have a purpose. I am here, getting an education in the United States, because of the sacrifices my ancestors made. I was born in Guatemala, where at a point there was genocide of the indigenous peoples. I come from blood that carries a lot of pain and suffering but also plenty of hard work and resilience. My purpose is to be a change agent in my community—not just because it’s important but because it’s needed. 

What is your wildest ambition? I want to be involved in the process of changing systemic structures that put some people in a better place and with better resources than others. My wildest ambition is to witness at least some progress in the efforts to achieve equity for underrepresented minorities and marginalized people.  

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? Whatever you are struggling with, you’re not alone. It’s hard to ask for help sometimes but it is necessary—not only for your well-being but so that then you can be that help for others. Apply for scholarships!  


Name: William Cuthbertson William Cuthertson, first-gen

Hometown: Ogden, Utah 

Role on campus: Undergraduate engagement librarian (an assistant professor) 

Years on campus: 1 year in February 2018 

Did you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I have a master’s, and frankly, that’s enough.  

Why did you choose Chico? I was excited that Chico State is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and by the high percentage of first-gen students coming here. If you’re looking to make a difference, which I am, then this is the student population I see as being the future of academia. 

What first sparked your interest in a college education? I loved reading from early on, so it was always assumed I’d go—that, and having high-achieving friends that I didn’t want to be shown up by. It’s funny how a little friendly peer pressure could turn out to be such a factor. 

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? Primarily the military life, which for us meant moving constantly to new states, new cities, or sometimes just another part of the same base. You learn to be agile, but it isn’t easy to commit to long-term plans.  

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? I have two friends from high school, Sean and Noel, who were both very instrumental in getting me going in college. Noel actually drove me to college that first day, for which I’m grateful, because I had no idea how I was going to get there otherwise. My brother was influential too—and he had just as hard of a path as I had, if not a little harder for having to go down it first. The fact that we both work in academia now says a lot, I think, about determination and where a simple love of reading can get you. 

What does being first-gen mean to you? It means wanting to succeed but not always getting the “how” of it. It means learning the rules of college sometimes in the worst ways. (I like to tell my students about how I failed my first science class, botany, because I had no understanding of what a lab class was.) It means learning quickly how your experiences are very different from those of your peers, but also how sometimes that’s a great asset in the classroom: you can ask the questions no one else thinks of—or dares to ask—and getting that kind of direct interaction with your instructors is liberating, educationally. 

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first-gen? There were a lot of secondary issues that made growing up a lot more about survival than making any future plans. Alcoholism, and the accompanying factors, were a huge issue in my family. Everyone else I knew seemed to have time to plan for their lives beyond high school, but I felt, even knowing I could make it, that we were living in a kind reactionary mode—waiting for things to normalize before being able to look ahead. I would add that having the experiences I’ve had—full-time work during college, having to drop out for lack of funds, transferring to a school that was more personal and a lot smaller than where I started—gives me a sense of accomplishment and a real way to communicate with students who I think are doing the same thing or feeling the same way. We can cut through the fancy talk about college and talk about what we need and want to do. That kind of directness, being able to make the obscure language of academia plain—that is an asset that first generation students have that is going to not just help them, but help them aid others in making that same climb to success. 

What is your wildest ambition? I want to finish one of the novels I started writing when I was younger, but other than that, I feel I am useful to students and doing exactly what I want to do.  

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? Not only can you do it, you can do it well. And chances are you already know a lot of the skills that are going to get you there. Be proud of the road you’ve had and the miles you’ve put on it. It’s your road. It’s your feet getting you there, and you’re meeting fantastic people along the way. But if anyone suggests you can’t do it, come and get me and we’ll go talk to them together. 


Tasha Alexander, first-genName: Tasha Alexander 

Hometown: Santa Cruz 

Role on campus: Project director of TRIO Student Support Services 

Years on campus: 16 

Did you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I earned an MA. 

Why did you choose Chico? Chico State looked like the universities I had seen in movies! 

What first sparked your interest in a college education? My parents insisted that I get a degree so that I didn’t have the same struggles and roadblocks in life that they had. 

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? Lack of financial resources, having children early in life, and fear of failure. 

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? My political science professor, Bob Jackson, really believed in me and encouraged me to do exceptional things like study abroad  and apply to graduate school. He actually planted the seed in my head. Those dreams seemed way out of my league until he convinced me to see myself as both intelligent and competent, and as someone who belonged in college. 

What does being first-gen mean to you? It means gratitude. To my parents for pushing me to get a degree so that I could choose a career path I love and have financial security; to my mentors for helping me navigate the path and be bolder than I thought possible; and to my younger self for having been brave enough to take big risks and for having had the grit to stay the course.  

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first-gen? The imposter syndrome is still a factor. As the first person in my family to have a job that requires a college degree, I still can’t believe I work at a university and collaborate on a daily basis with so many sophisticated professionals and scholars!  

What is your wildest ambition? To have my house paid off by the time I retire so that I can be the first in my family to enjoy a stress-free retirement. 

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? I would quote bell hooks, who reminds us that “education is the practice of freedom.” I would also quote my dad, who used to tell me “No one can ever take your education away from you.” Please don’t take your education for granted—it is the biggest gift you can give to your future self. 

Troy Jollimore, Philosophy, had his article, published in the text Melville Among the Philosophers.

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Troy Jollimore, Philosophy, had his article, “‘In Voiceless Visagelessness’: The Disenchanted Landscape of Clarel,” published in the text Melville Among the Philosophers. Read more.

A delegation from the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

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Chico State’s international students were visited by a delegation from the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Read more.