Student Access and Achievement Programs

First-Generation Stories

Nazareth staff and faculty — including some who are first-gen college grads themselves — are glad to be resources to you.

Isaiah Tolbert

Isaiah Tolbert Helps Today's Students Go to College

Role: Associate Director of Admissions

Proud of being first-gen
"I feel so proud of being first-gen. Before coming to college, my parents encouraged me to look at college, but also going into the military. My dad was in the Coast Guard and his father was in the Army. My mother's father and his 3 brothers were in the Coast Guard. My mother's grandmother was a part of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which transformed into the Coast Guard. That long lineage is something that I am proud of, too. I wanted to challenge myself in going to college and creating an additional legacy for my family."

What's Early Action and a FAFSA?
"I had to take the lead on how to start the college search process and take college tours. I started in the fall of my senior year — and I didn't realize that other people had already started and I felt some social pressure in not getting a head start. I soon realized that the terminology was different. What's a FAFSA, and how do you fill that out? What does Early Action mean? Is there a difference between work study and working a job on campus? What do the different names of loans mean? It was all so new and I kind of got lost in it.'

My advice for prospective/new students
"Don't be afraid to say, 'I don't know what this means.' Like my aunt always said, "A closed mouth doesn't get fed."

  • In high school, your school counselor or teachers can help with the college search/application process and explain terms that might be confusing.
  • During the application process, reach out to the colleges that you are interested in and schedule a meeting with Admissions and Financial Aid professionals.
  • During your first year of college, connect with your Orientation Leader, professors and resident assistant (R.A.) to help you adjust to your new world. They can answer questions about campus resources and you may find that they themselves are first-gen.
Prof. Bryan Adams and students, each with a laptop, interact in a group

Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams, assistant clinical professor in the School of Business and Leadership, was a first-gen student when he attended Nazareth.

What he sees today: First-gen students "are heavily invested in and care deeply about earning a college degree" and tend to be "incredibly self-motivated and fiercely independent."

His tip: Get to know faculty and staff. It's OK to ask for support.

Joe Daboll-Lavoie

Teaching Students to use Economics to Solve Problems

Professor: Joseph DaBoll-Lavoie, Ph.D.

Role: Professor and director of economics in the School of Business and Leadership

First to college and first for a doctorate!
"I was the first one in my family on both sides who completed a four-year degree (never mind a Ph.D.). My dad didn't finish high school, but received his diploma when his high school gave all the WWII enlisted men a credit that he was missing. My mom received her high school diploma. Both of my parents were bright, supportive, and made me and my brother stay in school and do well."

Pro tip: Work smarter
"First gen study habits: Work more — and smarter. Do more problems/thinking and question answering, not just re-reading over and over. Come in for help early to get on track on how to learn each class' content. Find out what works for each one. They all have nuances. Read before lectures so that your note taking is on a deeper level. Quiz yourself! PQRST! Look that up."

Everyone has challenges
"Don't be intimidated by others who seem like they know everything and how to act. They have their own baggage you can't see."

Prepare yourself
"Read books! Ask faculty for titles of what to read across the curriculum and in general. As a young person, the books that impacted me for my generation and earlier would be: Small Is Beautiful, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Bell Jar, The Color Purple, D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts."

Joycelyn Rivas

Appreciating First-Gen Support

"Failing for me is not an option," says Joycelyn Rivas '20. Read about her experience and advice >