First-generation faculty share personal experiences to relate to current students

Katie Clausen

First-generation students-turned-faculty members spoke about their college experiences to help current students who are facing the same struggles.

The UT Senate of College Councils hosted a First-Generation Faculty Panel in the William C. Powers Jr. Student Activity Center on Wednesday. The faculty members shared many personal anecdotes from their college years, but all had one common theme: Every first-generation student feels like they do not belong when they come to a university, but there’s a place for everyone at UT.

Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, director of UTeach Fine Arts in the College of Fine Arts, said it’s important for people to see others with shared experiences succeeding at UT and in academic spaces.

“As a young person, I know that was really important to me as a first-generation college student,” Schroeder-Arce said. “I didn’t have aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings and parents who had been successful in academia or even knew anything about it, so I needed other models and mentors, and I needed people who had a similar background to mine to say, ‘You can do it.’”


Architecture junior Kassandra Lee said she wants to see how UT is reaching out to prospective first-generation students.

“I really want to see the initiative from the school and see what they’re doing to help first-gen students come to a big university where it provides a lot of opportunity for people that really don’t have a lot of insight about going to college,” Lee said.

Paul Goldbart, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said programs such as peer mentorship help support students coming to a large university like UT.

“We know this is a big and complicated place,“ Goldbart said. “For some of us, we have a little easier experience because we happen to have family and friends who have been through the experience, but for those who haven’t, it’s absolutely essential that we level the playing field and make sure that everybody gets access.”

Several faculty members said they could use their personal experiences to empathize with and help students dealing with imposter syndrome and the guilt of leaving their families. 

“I just hope that students are able to see in faculty that many of us have taken the same path and it can be a challenging one and that there’s people who understand that challenge,” said Rachelle Chiang, clinical assistant professor in the School of Human Ecology.