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December 18, 2019

First-person perspectives from first-generation college students: Mitch Hughes, 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 Mitch Hughes:

As a first-generation college student, I knew I always wanted to pursue a four-year degree. I’ve faced a lot of obstacles, but I’ve learned that it’s how you overcome those challenges. I was never really gifted anything. I’ve worked for everything I have.

In high school, I took several advanced placement courses to earn over 20 college credits and balanced three varsity sports, including two in the same season. I had always enjoyed playing golf with my family but didn’t begin playing seriously until my freshman year. I worked hard to improve my game and, by my junior year, I was in contention to play collegiately.

The opportunity to compete in Division 2 athletics, as well as the scholarships I received, played a big role in my decision to attend Saginaw Valley State University. I earned the President’s Scholarship, as well as other private scholarships, which prevented me from having to take out any loans.

I was excited to start college, but I was always worried about classes being extremely hard, meeting new people, and fitting in. However, my reservations were soon resolved. I’ve earned a spot on either the Dean’s List or President’s List every semester and my teammates were supportive and helped me to open up. It’s like a family. I built a bond with a bunch of people. I’m going to talk to them for the rest of my life. We’re always there for each other when we need it. It’s a big reason why I’ve done so well.

I had a lot of support, but I faced many challenges as well. Our team has a large roster and only the top few players get to compete. I didn’t have the chance to compete as an underclassman, but I was determined to be in the lineup for my senior season. I dedicated myself to early morning workouts and the team’s weekend practices, as well as practicing on my own during the week in between my class schedule. My hard work paid off and I competed in nearly every competition, even earning a top-10 finish individually and helping my team reach several top-5 finishes. I love the competition. I forgot how much I missed it. 

I faced obstacles as a mechanical engineering major as well. I was always good at math and my grandparents worked in engineering, so I was interested in the field and drawn to the problem-solving aspects. I love the challenge. No two problems are ever the same. There’s something new every day. It makes you think.

When I tried to get work experience in my field, it was hard to get a co-op for a while. It took two years to get one. I kept fighting though. After a couple of years of applying but not getting a position, my professor recommended me for a co-op with a manufacturing company in Saginaw. It ended up being a great fit and I’ve worked there for several months, with my supervisors entrusting me with a lot of responsibilities. I work 15-20 hours per week and I help design parts, modify drawings, run vibration tests, and help the guys who are building machines in the shop.

This experience has helped me in my classes as well. In my senior design course, my group is developing a ladder-like cart system for the company we’re working with. We designed a custom hand truck with a system that can ride up the rungs of a ladder and be pulled up by a pulley or winch system. Some groups have to modify a system, but ours is brand new. There’s nothing in the world like it. We have weekly group meetings, and I contribute about 8-10 hours per week individually on the project. 

While I really enjoy everything I’m working on, it’s been a challenge learning how to balance working, going to school full-time, and being a varsity athlete. It’s a grind. You really have to teach yourself how to have a schedule, because when you get off your schedule, that’s when the stress and anxiety kicks in and you’re behind. It definitely puts a lot of stress on you, but it also makes life interesting in a way because I’m always doing something.

Although it’s a challenge, it’s something I embrace because I have this underlying desire to be great. To prove everyone wrong and to prove that I can be someone. There’s something burning inside me. There’s a fire.  

I’m really grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had at SVSU because, besides giving you a degree and education, it gives you a chance to learn about yourself. It’s really a life changing experience. You realize you have more potential than you think you did. Over the years, I’ve realized this is an amazing place and I’m really glad I came here.

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

Paloma Barba

Talia Pruiett

Jessalyn Gaskin

Lindsey Mead