By: Audra M. King, events coordinator, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

As students across the nation head back to the classroom, we are celebrating First-Generation students. A First-Generation College Student is defined as a student whose parents didn’t attend college; or is the first person in their immediate family to attend college; or neither parent has at least one year of college. This month, we are sharing stories from ACT colleagues and community advocates who are First-Generation College Students.

What was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

Although my parents hadn’t gotten beyond high school (my mom with a high school diploma, my dad with a GED) – they both knew the importance of a good education. They sacrificed a lot throughout my growing up years to give my brother and me access to every educational opportunity available. I caught the lifelong learner bug early, and I wanted to make them (and myself) proud by continuing on to higher education.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?

My entire immediate family supported and inspired me: both of my parents, my brother, and my maternal grandmother and uncle.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-generation college student?

I graduated from high school at 16, and moved into the dorms two days after I turned 17. Although I had been fairly self-sufficient up to that point, I realized pretty quickly that I had jumped into the deep end of an experience that my family couldn’t advise me on. I had to manage my schedule (both classes and study), financial needs (related to my scholarship and school loans), while maintaining academic excellence at a level unlike anything I had seen before. I had to learn an entirely new level of focus because, as someone who ultimately lived my father’s mantra of “doesn’t matter how old you are – you can learn something new every day,” the myriad courses offered were all at once appealing and terrifying.

What advice would you give to a first generation college student today?

Be open to possibility and to people who are different than you. Even if you think you know who you are and what you want to be when you grow up – diversify on all fronts. You will absolutely learn in ways you never thought possible.

What was your largest worry during that time?

Disappointing the people that got me there.

Audra M. King is an Events Coordinator at the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, focusing on Health Sciences events at the U of I and UIHC. The nerdy side of her flourishes in the project management space of supporting events from conception to actuality. The other side (whatever that is) thrives at being able to support and be involved in community and area events that are philanthropic and aim at giving back. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Central High School in Philadelphia (read more here) and a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Her minor in sign language ensures that she will always be talking…somehow.