Amber Mueller is on track to be the first in her family to graduate from college. Obtaining a degree holds an important meaning for this second-year scholar at the University of St. Thomas’ Dougherty Family College.
“I want to be the role model for my 6-year-old daughter that I never had growing up,” Mueller said. “I want her to see that education is a gift and that it is possible to attain.”
Mueller is one of many first-generation college students at St. Thomas, which has been designated a First-Gen Forward Institution. First-gen students are the first in their family to go to college or who have parents who did not graduate from college.
“My mother was a single mom who tried her best, but never finished college,” said Mueller, who is also a single mom and plans to obtain a degree in social work.
Criminal justice major Faith Outland, another first-gen scholar enrolled at Dougherty Family College, understands how impactful working toward a degree is, not just for herself, but her parents as well.
“What it means to be the first-generation is getting the opportunity they didn’t have and also paving the way for the next generation to come,” Outland said.
Both Mueller and Outland are also making the path for their peers a little smoother. Mueller, member of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, volunteers as a peer health educator at the Center for Well-Being. She also tutors biology and served as a Summer Enrichment Program orientation leader for incoming scholars. Outland is a peer ambassador at Dougherty Family College.
Davien Bailey, who is pursuing a Master of Arts in Leadership in Student Affairs from the School of Education and also obtained his bachelor’s degree at St. Thomas in 2022, is a graduate assistant for the First-Year Experience course. He also oversees the peer mentor program in the office of Student Affairs.
“I found a community of people here,” he said about the staff, faculty and peers at St. Thomas. “For first-gen students, it’s important to have (supportive) people at your institution.”
Bailey said when he first arrived at St. Thomas, being a first-gen student he felt he didn’t really belong because of what it took to adjust to college compared to high school. “Not having anybody (in my family) who did it before me meant leaning on other people willing to listen, who care.”
The advice Bailey said he’d offer to other first-gen students, regardless of which institution they attend, is to “try to find that community or group of people willing to help you and not being too hard on yourself or beating yourself up over little mistakes.”
A self-proclaimed introvert, he said he does his best to break out of his shell to participate in clubs and activities. “Find what you like,” he said. “College should be some of the most fun years of your life. Getting involved with different clubs and activities will help you find out what you want to major in, or what job you want.”
The advice Mueller gives to first-generation college students is to speak to the faculty. “They are here to help,” she said. Whereas Outland encourages students not to give up: “You started it, so persevere and finish it!”