I had finally finished moving into my residence hall room at Illinois State University (ISU). I had just said goodbye to my family and watched them drive away. As I got into the elevator to head back up to my room, I was full of emotion, and my face must have reflected that because the man in the elevator looked at me and said, “Just walk around this place like you belong- you got this!” Little did he know what an impact those words would make on me at the time. I would never end up crossing paths with that man again. However, his words provided hope at that moment and have stayed with me until today.
As a first-generation college student stepping foot onto ISU’s campus as a transfer student, it was easy to think I didn’t belong there. There was so much I didn’t know, so many questions I had, and so many obstacles that stood in my way-- it was easy to think that I wouldn’t fit in and that I didn’t belong.
The way that I felt that day is not unlike the way that many first-generation college students feel when they come to college. They enter an entirely new world that seems almost impossible to navigate and don’t know where to go to get the answers needed to find their way, as they aren’t able to ask their family members.
Here at Waubonsee, the TRIO/Student Support Services (SSS) team helps first-generation students and their families by assisting them in their educational journey. Our federally funded program serves first-generation students by serving as a “one-stop shop” to help them navigate their journey at Waubonsee and be successful. We hope to impact our students by assisting them with all their needs inside and outside the classroom. We show them that they belong here by advocating for them and providing resources to help them reach their goals. The TRIO/SSS program provides intensive academic, career, financial literacy, tutoring, and cultural outings for students. Our advisors work with each student to create a specific combination of services to meet individual needs. We exist to motivate students to complete their degrees, and services are provided at no cost to students.
There are many times when we make a significant impact on others without even realizing it. First-generation students benefit from others when they are given tools or are introduced to resources to overcome or navigate an academic or financial obstacle, when someone provides a listening ear, or in my case, when someone offers words of motivation during an elevator ride.
First-generation college students wear their title the proudest, and Waubonsee strives to make a lasting impact by showing them that they do, indeed, belong here. I am here because someone shared knowledge with me. I hope that if you or someone you know is a first-generation student, you will encourage them to reach out and ask for guidance, for someone to share knowledge with them. It’s available in more ways than we think.
• Andrea Egle is the TRIO/Student Support Services Manager at Waubonsee Community College.