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December 18, 2019

First-person perspectives from first-generation college students: Jessalyn Gaskin, of SVSU

The following is a part of a series of first-person narratives from SVSU students who are part of the first generation of their families to attend college. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find links to additional student stories.

The following is a first-person perspective from SVSU student Jessalyn Gaskin:

I knew I always wanted to go to college. I went to a college preparatory charter school authorized by Saginaw Valley State University and my parents always encouraged me to continue my education. As a first-generation college student with younger siblings, I thought going to college was important because I have young people that look up to me and I knew that me going to college would inspire them to go too. I felt nervous, but also excited. I’m a family person and I’ve never spent that much time away from home. With a lot of opportunities for scholarships, one of the best social work programs in the state, and a good distance from home, SVSU was a great fit.

I have a major in social work with a minor in youth services, and I want to work in a juvenile delinquency center. I also want to earn my master’s degree so that I can become a clinical social worker in a hospital, and ultimately, I want to open my own Boys and Girls Club of America-style establishment.  

I just have the itch to help everyone regardless of their ethnicity, their background, or what they’re going through. Being a social worker is not just about helping people– it’s about correcting social injustice.

I knew I needed to go to college to achieve these goals, but I wasn’t always sure that I would go immediately after high school. I considered staying home and working because I was really concerned about the financial costs of going away to college. Scholarships played a big role in deciding to pursue a four-year degree and in choosing SVSU, and I found that financial assistance is much more accessible than students often think. There’s a lot of scholarships. Students just don’t apply because they don’t know the resources available to help them get to college.

One of my scholarships included the Public School Academy (PSA) scholarship at SVSU, which provides financial and personal support for recipients in the program. As a mentee in the PSA Transition Program, we had coaches and mentors that kept us on track in our first year with tutoring, volunteer and leadership experience, and academic advising. This support really helped me transition to college, and it inspired me to give back as a mentor in the King Chavez Parks (KCP) grant program. As a mentor, I help other first-generation college students and I like the experience because I understand how they feel. I like to tell them that I went through the same thing and I understand.

When I was transitioning to being a college student, I was worried about feeling like I wouldn’t belong. I was very reserved in high school and had been in school with the same small class for years, so it was really comforting to meet so many welcoming and friendly people at SVSU. Joining programs like the Organization of Black Unity and Impact, a campus ministry group, helped me build a community on campus that broke me out of my shell. My favorite part of being in college is meeting new people. It opened me up more and helped me experience a lot of new things and opportunities.

I would really encourage others to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new. If they open themselves up to new experiences and opportunities, they will have the support and resources they need to succeed. I learned that, if you stay, you won’t get anywhere. In order to have opportunities and actually experience college, you have to open up.

The following are links to additional first-person perspectives from first-generation college students:

Paloma Barba

Talia Pruiett

Lindsey Mead

Mitch Hughes