K-State helps academic dreams come true for first-generation students

K-State Alumni Communications 

In this video, first-generation college student and Kansas State University graduate Martin Segovia ’04 shares his story. (Video segment from A Walk in My Shoes: First-Generation College Students)

As Kansas State University students walk across the stage on graduation day to accept their diplomas, some of them will also celebrate the fact they are the first in their family to earn a college degree. 

According to Steve Dandaneau, vice provost for undergraduate studies, a first-generation college student is someone who is working to become the first person in his or her immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Approximately 40 percent of each incoming freshman class at K-State is composed of first-generation students, and about 7,000 are enrolled this semester. 

Dandaneau, who is himself a first-generation student, said first-generation students face a unique set of challenges as they pursue their educational goals. Students cite difficulties such as struggling to afford food, feeling the pressure to succeed and find a job after graduating, and trying to fit in with other students. 

Martin Segovia ’04, athletic director and vice principal at Garden City High School, was the first person in his immediate family to graduate from high school. He said sometimes at college, he felt like packing up his belongings and giving up and going home, but he forced himself to keep working. He now looks for ways to give back and help other students, just as people helped him. 

“In this profession, you’re giving back daily, you’re always looking for the next myself. I’m always looking for the next Martin, and there’s a lot of them out there,” he said. “So I wish there were more of me to go around, because I enjoy doing what we do. But I keep that in the back of my mind all the time: ‘I owe, I owe, I owe.’”

In this video, recent Kansas State University graduate Jessica Leichter '15 talks about her journey as a first-generation college student. (Video segment from A Walk in My Shoes: First-Generation College Students)
Jessica Leichter ’15 is another first-generation student who attended K-State. She grew up in a relatively affluent family and community in Shawnee, Kansas, but is the first person in her immediate family to pursue a college degree. Her parents faced educational challenges when they were growing up, and her father was even told by a high school guidance counselor not to “waste his time” with college.

“I think being a first-generation student means that you’re kind of like the ground-breaker for everything in your family, and you’re the first one to really step out on a limb and reach for something higher than everyone else has,” she said. “I think it’s a big risk when you’re the first one to say, you know, I’m going to do it.”

Thankfully, students at K-State don’t have to make this journey alone. The university’s First Scholars program provides personalized support, development and leadership opportunities, and a scholarship to selected first-generation students. 

“As a land-grant university, K-State has been from its founding committed to providing opportunity for all people to pursue the benefits of higher education, and we have an established track record of above-average first-gen student success,” Dandaneau said. “That’s why we have the First Scholars program and other initiatives to bolster our ability to support this large and diverse K-State community.” 

Source: Friday First-Gen Focus series in K-State Today. Contributors to this series include the College of Education, the Teaching and Learning Center, the Suder Foundation, the Division of Communications and Marketing, and A Walk in My Shoes: First-Generation College Students documentary. 

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