Undergraduate Programs

Celebrating Clarkson University’s First Generation Students

A women standing next to the stone Clarkson university sign

On November 8, the Council for Opportunity in Education and Center for First Generation Student Success celebrates the fourth annual First Generation Celebration Day. Here at Clarkson, we join other colleges and universities across the country in celebrating our students who are the first in their family to attend college and receive a higher education.

Karla Norales ’22 and Olivia Netter ’21, both of whom major in Engineering and Management, and Ryan Bell ’21, a software engineering major, express a deep sense of pride in being a first generation college student. To recognize First-Generation Celebration Day, we wanted to let Karla, Olivia and Ryan speak for themselves about what their experience as a first generation student means to them.

Karla Norales

To me, being a first generation student means that I will be able to help my family with some of the economical challenges they face. The thought that the next generation of my family will be able to say that I got a college education makes me proud to be a first generation student.

A person smiling into the camera wearing a gray sweatshirt with the words Clarkson on it

I was born and raised in the South Bronx, a proud daughter of Honduran immigrants who came to the US over 25 years ago to give their future generation a better life.

I was that one student that was never able to ask my parents for help to do my homework. I lived in a Spanish speaking household with my older brother. When I found I got into Clarkson HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) I didn’t tell my family for weeks due to fear that my mom would not let me go. To my surprise she was very happy for me, my entire family was.

Growing up my parents would tell me that my education is my future, they have so much hope for me and my brother to do so much more than what they dream of. Which I am thankful for because they are my motivation to continue and succeed.

My advice to others who are striving to be a first generation college student would be, don’t be afraid to do what you want. Being a first generation student sometimes come with close minded parents, so have that conversation about what you want for your future.

Olivia Netter

A person standing next to the stone sign that reads Clarkson University

My name is Olivia Netter, and my experiences as a first generation college student have been unique, challenging and extremely rewarding.

Both my parents and grandparents are incredibly hard working people, but were not able to obtain a four year degree due to a variety of reasons. I learned a lot from their work ethic, and knew from a young age that higher education was something I really wanted to pursue.

It’s hard not having someone to go to with the answers for every issue that arises. In particular, I remember the college application process being confusing and overwhelming. Figuring everything out on my own was no easy task. I found that Clarkson was particularly supportive during my application process.

The excitement I experienced when opening acceptance letters was one I will never forget. Not only was it exciting for me, but it was equally exciting for my parents too. 

I have a lot of pride as a first generation college student. I feel obligated to prove to myself and to others that I am capable of doing this. I also feel as though my success is a reflection on both myself and my family. I am taking advantage of the opportunities that they were not able to have.

I am grateful for every experience I have had here at Clarkson, and truly felt like I have tried to make the most of my time in college. I have grown so much as a person, student and leader. I tend to be super critical of myself, but sometimes it is important to reflect on how far I have come.

I have taken on many leadership roles across campus, done well academically, and most recently have accepted a full time job offer with Kiewit as a Field and Office Engineer. As I get ready to enter in my last semester of college, I realize that I would not be here if it wasn’t for the support I received from so many people during my time at Clarkson.

Thank you to my academic advisors, teachers, friends, family, sisters of Theta Phi Alpha, and most importantly Emma Blaiklock and Chris Campbell who I have had the pleasure of working with for the past three years. 

In High School I had no idea what my college experience would be like. It’s certainly not easy but there are so many people to help you along the way. Clarkson is a supportive environment and they want to see all their students succeed no matter what their background is.

I look forward to eventually continuing my education and receiving my Master’s Degree. I also look forward to supporting my future children on their journey in higher education. Being a first generation college student is challenging, but so worth it. 

Ryan Bell

My parents were never married and both of them dropped out of high school. My grandparents ended up having to raise me. I believe this changed my life for the better because if I had stayed with one of my parents, I don’t think I would be in the situation I am today.

A man outside looking into the camera

My grandparents always motivated me to do the best I can in school and pushed for college. They believed in me and supported me in whatever I chose to do. At first, we didn’t think we’d be able to come up with the money to afford college, but scholarships from high school really helped, along with other scholarships and grants.

I’m proud to be a first generation student. Growing up, I never believed that I would be in the situation I am today but I pushed through it and achieved my goal of attending college.

To me, being a first generation student is a big accomplishment. I’m one of the few in my whole entire family to actually attend college and I believe I’m making a life for myself.

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