Our Stories

U-M faculty, students and staff who are first-generation students and graduates proudly share their stories. We’d like to hear from you too. What has your experience been like as a first-gen at U-M?


We are collecting stories from first-generation college students who have a connection to the University of Michigan. If you are an alumnus/alumna, faculty, staff or student from U-M, we would love to share your story.

Hear Our First-Gen Stories

Click on profiles to read their entire first-gen story.
Photo of Monica Olszewski

Monica Olszewski (Undergraduate Student)

Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek out help. I feel that like growing up as First Generation students we always thought we had to figure out life all by ourselves because we didn't have anyone to ask when we were younger. There are so many people at the University of Michigan that just want to see you succeed so when your struggling reach out to the community.
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Headshot of Meagan Hart-Molloy

Meagan Hart-Molloy (Staff)

As a first-gen student, it can feel like you've missed the memo at some point. Remember that you are valued added to this community and know that you have champions here to support you and provide answers to those questions and curiosities. Not knowing and being willing to ask and explore takes courage, and you are capable!
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Headshot of Julia Kassab

Julia Kassab (Undergraduate Student)

Don't be afraid to explore new fields / ideas! Take classes that seem outside your comfort zone, go out of your way to meet new people, and take on exciting opportunities as they come.
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Tabi Cain Headshot

Tabi Cain (Undergraduate Student)

Ask questions. If you don’t know who to ask, keep asking everyone around you and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
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Shantaris Brown Headshot

Shantaris Brown (Graduate Student)

My advice for other First-Gen students would be never lose sight of your goals and don't stop until you achieve them. Build community while you can, it will make the journey a lot more fun and easier! You are meant to be here, never doubt yourself or your abilities. You are a trailblazer.
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Joey (Undergraduate Student)

Always put in that extra step to get where you want to go. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, make connections, and define your own success! Always remember that the extra effort will be worth it.
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Headshot of Cielo Jimenez

Cielo Jimenez (Undergraduate Student)

Seek as much help as you can. Whether it's from faculty, friends, or organizations, the more help you have to navigate college will help you tremendously in your journey to succeed.
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Raven (Alum)

Don't let your education get in the way of learning. To elaborate, your formal education at one of the top institutions is important, but don't forget to focus on the other happenings on campus- get involved, join a club, make friends! I spent way too much time focusing on my studies because I didn't want to disappoint my family, and while I thoroughly enjoyed my academics, I didn't spend as much time involved on campus.
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Jill Charbonneau Headshot

Jill Charbonneau (Undergraduate Student)

I am proud to be a First-Gen student! I know that I am making my family and friends proud. I am incredibly thankful for my Michigan education and cannot wait to use what I have learned when I go to law school.
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Headshot of Travis L. Martin

Travis L. Martin (Staff)

Although it may get challenging sometimes, know that you belong here. You are part of the University of Michigan. Seek out formal and informal mentors to help you navigate and find a sense of belonging here. Learn how to increase your financial literacy and other soft skills as they will propel you.
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Headshot of Riley Kina

Riley Kina (Undergraduate Student)

Attend festifall and get involved with everything you’re interested in! Put yourself out there and you will find your community!
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Headshot of Shannon Gass

Shannon Gass (Staff)

Ask questions and do not forget you belong here! First-gen students are courageous and there are so many resources for support to help you succeed!
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Headshot of Joelle Fundaro Randall

Joelle Fundaro Randall (Staff)

Remember you are resilient and it is okay to ask for help! No one can do this solo! Together, we create new opportunities and accomplish so much more - more than you might think is possible. You grow and learn new things every time try something new and have fun!
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Headshot of Romonia Atchison

Romonia Atchison (Staff)

My advice to other First-Gen students: -Embrace and own all of your cultural backgrounds. It's what makes you unique and continue to shine in this world. -Keep breaking down stereotypes and continue to make a way for others within your culture to come through and do great things. -Go after your goals and don't let anyone or anything stop you! This world needs you. -Big up yourself!
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Headshot of Anabelle Dally

Anabelle Dally (Undergraduate Student)

If you think an opportunity might interest you - pursue it even if you are afraid of not being capable enough for it. Without seeking out opportunities, there are fewer chances for you to grow into someone who is confident, capable, and determined to succeed.
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Headshot of Christina Zerka

Christina Zerka (Undergraduate Student)

It's perfectly normal not to have everything figured out from the start; trust the process, be open to new possibilities, and let your status as a first-gen student be a source of pride.
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Photo of Cynthia Tate

Cynthia Tate (Staff)

It takes courage to face your fears that you don't fit in or aren't good enough. Don't listen to fear. Fear is a liar. Know that when you come here, you belong. You are coming home. I've learned that it's OK to try something and fail; that you can always change your story and your mind. The greatest leaders I've met here at the University of Michigan are those who also happened to be first gen college students. They have a special appreciation for different student and staff identities and backgrounds.
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Headshot of Joseph Ballard II

Joseph Ballard II (staff)

My advice to any first-generation college student is to not let anything (imposter syndrome, environmental or societal influences, people, life circumstances, etc.) deter you from accomplishing any goals you have set for yourself.
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