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Faculty are professors at MSU Denver

We asked some first-generation MSU faculty members to share their experience as a first-gen student and what advice they have for students alike. Click on their names below to access their full interview with advice for first-gen students. 


Megan Lazorski, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

"In general, my experience was very exciting, inspiring, and rewarding. I always felt like I was doing something intrepid and special for myself and my family. On the other hand, though, many things seemed quite unintuitive, which made me. I feel like I was somehow out of place or missing a piece to the puzzle. I often felt like I needed to work much harder to achieve similar results to my peers, and even if I looked comparable “on paper,” I always felt behind. This was not necessarily a bad thing because it strengthened my already hefty work ethic and allowed me to prove to myself just how hard I could push myself to achieve my goals. However, as I moved on to graduate school, I had more tasks, and I had to divide my time even more finely. This experience forced me to study more efficiently instead of just studying more. This experience also helped me realize that there is such a thing as overworking and over-studying, and those behaviors tanked my efficiency. I still struggle with this issue to this day! However, I try to remind myself that hard work is not the same as constantly overworking, and balanced life is a goal for everyone though what looks like is likely to be different for each person."

Kristy Lyons, Associate Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences

"I had a great time in my classes, where I felt like I knew how to be a student. But I struggled with college processes - figuring out a major and finding a way to pay for my rent, bills, and eat. I also worried a lot about what I’d do after college but had no idea how to actually figure out a career plan. I also felt a kind of disconnect when I went home - like I couldn’t really talk to anyone in my family about what my college experience was like because it felt too fancy or out of touch. None of my friends at school were first-gen (that I knew of), and my friends from high school who went to college all seemed to have a very different experience because their parents were paying for school and their rent and even giving them spending money! I felt kind of in my own little bubble where I couldn’t be my full authentic self with anyone.

Devon Wright, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Africana Studies

"My advice to first-gen students is to take college very seriously. Do your best to earn as high a grade as possible in every class so you can graduate with the highest GPA possible. Why? Because after graduation, most students will quickly realize that a Bachelor's degree isn’t enough in today’s society. So most will want to go on to graduate school, which is more expensive than undergraduate studies. However, many graduate programs offer scholarships in the form of teaching assistantships. These will pay for 100% of your tuition, but you will need a competitive GPA to get them."

Katherine (Kat) Martinez, Ph.D. Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy

"Being a first-generation undergraduate student was challenging. I enrolled in a primarily White institution because I received a scholarship that would pay for four years of college. Having this financial stability was a privilege I had earned, but being in this environment with many students who had unearned (class and race) privileges was a daily reminder that I did not quite belong. I did not know how to be a student: how to take notes, how to study, which classes to choose, how to become involved in campus activities, how to engage with faculty, etc. By the end of my first year of school, I had determined that I would quit and move back to my hometown in Southwestern Colorado to be closer to my family. I stayed in school because of a TRiO mentor who encouraged me to keep trying. And I did, eventually graduating and deciding to enroll in graduate school, which was even more difficult as a first-generation student. However, in graduate school, I found my voice, found my people, and found my calling as a teacher. I still experienced imposter syndrome; I still doubted myself and my abilities but learned that I deserved to be in the classroom, and I deserved the opportunities afforded other students."

Nicholas Recker, Ph.D., Professor, Sociology & Anthropology

"The two biggest items which helped me were: great mentoring and staying on track. I was lucky to meet people who understood my goals and gave great advice. Additionally, I worked hard to make good progress towards my degree every semester. COVID-19 makes staying on track difficult (in addition to work and family obligations), though Metro State is working to help students succeed despite these obstacles."


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