New First-Generation Students and Their Families Welcomed by Faculty and Staff
The path to a college education can seem rife with obstacles if you’re the first in your family to take it.
Navigating admissions essays, financial aid forms and figuring out which college offers the best fit is complicated. Then you get to campus—and encounter more unchartered land. Know we’re here to help, Davidson leaders told first-generation students and their families at a luncheon on Thursday.
More than 80 members of the class of 546 are first-generation college students. They come from around the region, country and world. Many of the Davidson faculty and staff members they lunched with were also first-generation college students.
Andrea Duhon, a visiting assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, experienced those challenges. Her family moved from Colombia to Miami when she was nine. She excelled academically in high school and arrived as a freshman at North Carolina State University with a single suitcase and a lot of questions.
It didn’t look anything like Miami or Colombia. My mom spoke a different language and didn’t know anything about what to expect. She had to drop me off at the airport because she couldn’t afford to go with me.
Duhon and others described expending so much energy figuring out college systems that they missed valuable opportunities.
“I didn’t know how financial aid worked. It didn’t occur to me that I could study abroad,” Jamie Stamey, Executive Director of the Matthews Center for Career Development, said. “I didn’t apply for internships. I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Stamey urged students to turn to the willing mentors they’ll find at Davidson. A few parents and some students wiped away tears during her talk.
One planning to do just that is Lorain Clawson, a QuestBridge and Bonner Scholar from Ohio. She said she spent most of her life shuttled among different foster homes—"some really abusive,” and none that encouraged college.
And yet she became a top student, graduating from a combined high school and community college program with an associate’s degree. She also served as a school government leader, winning debate team member and advocate for others.
Clawson picked Davidson as the place to help her fulfill her dream of becoming a U.S. Foreign Service officer.
“I really like it here,” she said after the luncheon. “A lot of people struggle with a new environment, and this was really helpful. We come from different life circumstances. Most people here seem very connected to their families, but some don’t have that strong family support.”
She found an advocate a few years ago when a friend’s family took her in. His mom, Jennifer Grant, came with her to Davidson.
“She’s worked really hard to get where she is, and beat the odds in a lot of ways,” Grant said. “After being here, I’m comfortable that she absolutely will be able to accomplish what she wants to do. I’ll leave here knowing she’s in the best hands.”