Recap: From First-Gen Student to First-Gen Professional

In November 2019, UConn celebrated its inaugural First-Generation College Celebration. Initiated by the Council for Opportunity in Education and NASPA’s Center for First-Generation Student Success, the goal of the First-Generation College Celebration is to celebrate the success of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on campuses in any and every way possible.

To do just that, the Center for Career Development partnered with First Gen UConn to sponsor an event entitled From First-Gen Student to First-Gen Professional. The event featured six rock-star alumni panelists who were all first-generation college students when they were at UConn and have since transitioned to successful careers in the workforce. The panelists were asked a number of questions about the job search process, workplace transition and adjustments, challenges they faced throughout the process, and advice for current students.

Since UConn was recently designated as a First-Gen Forward institution thanks to its support of first-gen students, we thought it was time to recap some of the outstanding advice our alumni panelists shared last fall. Read on to find out more about our panelists and see a few glimpses of the insight they had to share!

Discuss your transition to the workplace after college. What were some of your challenges? What do you wish you knew?

  • I got a job from someone in my network; I can’t stress how important it is to network while you are in college
  • It’s important not to undervalue yourself and your skillset; be confident in what you do
  • I did a post-grad internship and networked through that to find a job
  • Be upfront with your first supervisor about your feelings as a first-generation professional

How do you sift through the overwhelming amount of advice you get from people about your career?

  • Find a good sounding board, someone who you can talk through things with objectively
  • Educate your parents whenever you can, but know that they won’t always understand
  • Don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes
  • Expand your definition of success

How do you know you’ll defy the odds and “make it” professionally?

  • You’re already defying the odds by being here
  • Having the right support system is key
  • Set smaller goals to feel a sense of accomplishment while getting closer and closer to the “big” goal
  • Talk to people who are where you want to be and followed similar paths

How did you, or do you, build your network? How have you relied on connections or mentors?

  • Ask questions and meet new people whenever you can
  • Be interested in what others are doing even if you don’t think you are
  • Don’t self-select out; don’t choose to not participate or volunteer because you don’t think something is for you
  • Join professional organizations, casual groups, and LinkedIn

Reflecting on your experience as a first-gen student, what strengths do you bring to your workplace?

  • I thrive on taking risks and addressing the elephant in the room
  • Fake it till you make it!! (but once you make it, don’t keep telling yourself you’re faking it)
  • I’m really independent and know how to seek out the info I need
  • I know how to work with fewer resources to achieve the same results; creative problem-solving
  • Explaining complex problems in simple terms

The next First-Generation College Celebration will take place on November 8, 2020. For more information on the celebration and to see how first-generation students, faculty, and staff are being celebrated throughout the country, visit the First-Generation College Celebration website. Additionally, keep an eye on the First Generation UConn website for specific information about how UConn will be celebrating.