ross report feature photo (2)

Q&A: Michigan Ross Faculty and Staff Share their Experiences as First-Generation College Graduates

At Michigan Ross, our staff and faculty are incredibly talented and diverse and come from all walks of life. Many of our colleagues are even first-generation college graduates. To learn more about their backgrounds and how they ended up in their current career, we asked eight faculty and staff to share their experiences and challenges as first-generation college students.


romigalyssa alyssa romig

Alyssa Romig
Talent management specialist, Human Resources
Bachelor of Science, University of Michigan

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
The most significant way being a first-generation graduate has shaped my career is with my decision to pursue a career path that did not require an advanced degree beyond undergraduate education. The financial burdens of attending a major university were significant, and obtaining an advanced degree would require taking on significant financial debt to support being a full-time graduate student. I chose to enter the workforce immediately following graduation and have never looked back!

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
I grew up in a very supportive household and was always told I could do anything. Inspiration was never needed. Attending college was never a question. I was going!

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
In addition to being a first-generation student, I also came from a rural area. Although I excelled in high school, the academic rigor of U-M took me some time to get used to. As a freshman, many of my classes were in large lecture halls, bigger than my entire high school graduating class. I struggled academically, and my grades were very mediocre. However, I slowly started to figure it out. I attended office hours, asked a lot of questions, and sought help when I needed it. As I got into the core classes of my major, I enjoyed what I was learning. My grades improved, and I’m proud to say that by my final semester, I had a 4.0 term GPA.


me sept 23 andrea morrow

Andrea Morrow
Lecturer of business communication, director of writing programs, and co-chair of business communication
Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts, University of Michigan

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
I had trouble imagining myself in a career that wasn’t blue-collar. When a professor who had been my mentor as an undergraduate suggested I go to graduate school, it was a shock. I had never considered that and certainly never considered a career in higher education. I think that one of the stumbling blocks for not finishing my PhD was that I wasn’t sure how it would change me and whether I would like the person I might become. So, instead, I’ve had a long, 29-year career teaching at Ross as a lecturer. Maybe it’s been a sort of compromise position between my rural, blue-collar roots and my love of teaching.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
I had an amazing English teacher who encouraged me to think about college. My high school’s guidance counselor thought maybe I should attend a small, private school or even start at community college and live at home, but my teacher helped me to dream big. Later, several of my undergrad professors validated my sense of self as someone who had a place at the university.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
Many small things, like not knowing how to talk to professors during office hours, network, or get an internship. I think the biggest challenge that I faced was not being able to envision myself at college or in a career in higher education.


akdesai3 copy angela kujava

Angela Kujava
Managing director, Desai Accelerator, Zell Lurie Institute
Bachelor of Arts, University of Michigan; Master of Design Methods, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology (expected Dec. 2023)

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
While most people don’t take a linear path in their career, I feel that having little understanding of the landscape and its opportunities caused me to make choices based on security rather than personal fulfillment. At the same time, having a wide array of experiences has allowed me to be a high-value contributor, as I can understand problems on multiple levels and execute many types of solutions.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
My parents and teachers stressed education as a core value, including higher education. Because they didn’t have the same opportunities, they wanted to ensure that I did. They believed that college was the way to gain exposure to valuable experiences.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
Navigating systems and imposter syndrome. Even if I understood that opportunities existed, I wasn’t confident they were for someone like me.


oswaldphoto dennis oswald

Dennis Oswald
Lecturer of accounting
Bachelor of Commerce, University of Alberta; Master of Science, London School of Economics and Political Science; Master of Business Administration and PhD, University of Chicago

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
Each next step in my academic career path was filled with a lot of uncertainty. I never quite knew what I was getting myself into, so I just jumped in and hoped it would all work out. Fortunately, it has worked out. However, I still have some degree of imposter syndrome that I am certain will always be hanging over me.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
I remember that from an early age, I was going to a university, and this idea came from my father. During my K-12 education, he always pushed me to do well academically. On a trip to Edmonton, my father pointed out the University of Alberta, and it was clear which university I would attend. I believe my father pushed me toward university because he was not able to attend.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
Two challenges come to mind. First, during my undergrad, it was difficult not being able to rely on my parents for advice and direction. Being in university was not something they knew about, so I had to navigate all of the choppy waters myself. Second, during graduate school in London, as a foreign student, the tuition and living costs were quite expensive. Since I was coming from a lower socio-economic background, it was difficult. I ended up having to borrow money from numerous relatives so that I could attend.


img 2043 tiffani garth

Tiffani Garth
Academic human resources manager, Human Resources
Bachelor of Arts, University of Michigan

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
It has influenced my career journey in several ways. It has instilled in me a strong work ethic and determination as I had to navigate the challenges of college without prior family experience. I can face unfamiliar territory more confidently because it’s something I’ve been doing since I was a teenager, therefore resulting in a very resourceful employee.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
Inspiration for attending college came first and foremost from my family. I was motivated to improve my family’s economic circumstances and to provide a life perspective to my family through a different lens. I was also motivated by many of my teachers in the Detroit Public School system, who were always encouraging and made me believe that college was easily part of my future and always recommended me for extracurricular student groups.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
Some of the greatest challenges I faced as a first-generation student had nothing to do with college itself but a lot to do with the experience of college. I was growing into an independent adult, learning to make good life decisions and creating an identity for myself outside of my home identity while responsibly attending class and working several jobs. I also dealt with “imposter syndrome” because although I graduated at the top of my high school class, I was attending a globally ranked university where everyone was at the top of their class. I didn’t use that term then, but that is definitely what it was.


img 0146 ivory wright

Ivory Wright
Digital education media designer, Digital Education
Eastern Michigan University

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
Attending college has opened up more career options for me than I would have been able to explore on my own. Along the way, I have met many other individuals who are also focused on their career paths, and my network could rival that of the University of Michigan’s alumni network (just kidding). Being part of a community of career-driven individuals has been a great source of inspiration and motivation for me.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
I have always had a curious mind, which began with my first set of encyclopedias. In the past, if you wanted to gain a deep understanding of something, you had to search for it through the resources you could get your hands on. My parents used to house U-M students, whom they would take to class and campus events. I remember feeling excited as I knew this wonderful environment would feed my curiosity for answers.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
As someone who was considering going to college, I feel that the biggest hurdle was the learning curve. I wish there were people who could have explained to me what college life is really like beyond what is written in a brochure. For example, I would have loved to know how the Merit Scholarship worked, that Pre-Med is not really a major, and that you only really need two meal swipes in the cafeteria.


jp ross school headshot joey petriches

Joey Petriches
Director of major gifts, Office of Advancement
Bachelor of Business Administration, Eastern Michigan University; Master of Arts, University of Michigan – Flint

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
Being a first-generation college graduate completely shaped my career. Going to college changed the direction of my life and opened new doors I never imagined. That’s part of what sparked my passion for fundraising. The gifts I help close break down financial barriers for students like me. They help decrease the financial burden of attending college and give kids a chance at a career and life they may have never imagined. My career is my way of helping to pay it forward.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
To be completely honest, my drive was to play college hockey. It wasn’t until I arrived on campus that I started to see the impact higher education had on students and realized how I was growing as a student and as a person. As I began to get more opportunities, my drive to grow and succeed also increased.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
The greatest challenge was feeling like I was exploring a new path with nobody to ask for guidance. It was truly a “figure it out” time in my life. Looking back, I think figuring it out has helped shape who I am today, but as an 18- or 19-year-old, that was scary and challenging.


case cropped headshot 2022 charleen rose case

Charlie Case
Assistant professor of management and organizations
Bachelor of Arts in psychology and anthropology, Miami University; Master of Science in social psychology and PhD in social psychology, Florida State University

How has being a first-generation college graduate shaped your career journey?
Because I couldn’t afford the same social life as my wealthier peers, I fully immersed myself in academics. Following the suggestion of one of my graduate student instructors, I got involved in various research labs in social psychology and biological anthropology. Through those research experiences, I uncovered my passion for studying human and primate behavior and developed strong relationships with several professors and PhD students. Those mentors shaped my career and my life profoundly. They helped me find my way in college, locate resources, and navigate PhD program admissions. They also encouraged me to apply for and pursue exciting, research-oriented study abroad opportunities in Cambridge, England, and in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. Through these experiences, I found my calling in higher education, made lifelong friends, and developed a strong passion for paying forward the excellent mentorship I received.

As a first-generation college student, where did you draw inspiration for attending college, and how did you develop that mindset?
I cannot recall an “aha!” moment in which I was inspired to attend college. Attending college was an expectation I had for myself since I was fairly young, even though I knew very little of what it would entail. The primary factor that fostered my drive to attend college was that I adored and admired many of my teachers. So, even though my parents had never attended college, there were many influential role models in my life who had.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced as a first-generation student?
The largest challenge I faced in college concerned financial hardship. My parents were not in a position to pay for my education, so I took on considerable loan debt. I received a Pell Grant, made some extra money as part of the work-study program, and received various scholarships, but the remaining costs of going to school were still very steep. Furthermore, because I was a low-income student among a high-income student body, there was a strong desire to fit in with my wealthier peers that I could never fully actualize. That weighed on me as a young adult. I also had very little understanding of how to “do” college. For instance, I had only applied to Miami University and had no backup schools. My first year at Miami was especially challenging because I didn’t know who to turn to for advice about financial aid, course selection, or career options. In my second year, however, I caught my stride under the mentorship of one of my PhD student instructors.

Similar Posts