Let us guide you through your college experience

First-generation college students face an array of barriers as they navigate the admissions process, financial aid, college-level coursework, and the social dynamics of college life. Without a support network that has the first-hand experience navigating these confusing processes and expectations, first-generation college students can struggle to enter college and succeed once they are there.  Below are some of our stories and how being the first in the family to attend university shaped their academic experiences. 

“My education has meant the world to me. My parents always stated how proud they were of me even if they didn’t fully understand what I was going through. Their support, along with the support of my extended family and college family is what got me through. I strive to be that support for first-generation students each day.”

-Rhonda Gentry, Executive Director of Student Persistence & Engagement


“I am proud to be a first-generation graduate because my Mom and Dad sacrificed to ensure that I was able to graduate from college. Their sacrifice and the sacrifice of my husband enabled me not only to obtain an undergraduate degree but to obtain both a master’s degree and a doctorate. As a result, I have been able to teach children with disabilities as well as train pre-and in-service teachers how to work with some of God’s most precious gifts.”

-Betsy Loveday, Assistant Professor of Education                


“As a child, my life dreams and aspirations were to be an Astronaut or President of the United States. I believe that the more one knows about the world, the more one is able to do. So for me, getting a college education was a necessary means to pursue my personal happiness and success.”

-Troy Goodale, Professor of Political Science and Chair, Dept of Social Science


“School was really hard, especially at a huge university.  My work took a little longer than others but I was determined.  Now my work ethic is solid and my purpose is to help others do the same.”

-Shay Riggs, Associate Director of SSS/ARCHES


“I think back to the encouragement that I received from my parents: “Education is important to your future. You have one life to live so dare to be different and choose the path that you will enjoy the most. Wherever you go, always remember your family”. This is also what my wife and I have instilled in our two sons.”

-Geir Bergvin, Associate Professor of Marketing


“My sister and I were the first in our family to go to college. My undergraduate degree is from SUNY Geneseo. I am also the first in my family to complete my graduate degree AND I am the first TEACHER!”

-Stephanie Kirby, Education Field Experience Coordinator


“I am a first-generation UTK grad with a BS in Music Education and an MS in Curriculum and Instruction. After teaching in Knox County for seven years, I came to Tusculum in 2008 and have worked as the Director of Clinical Experience for the College of Education since 2012.”

-Michelle Clupper, Education Field Experience Coordinator


“Sometimes there tends to be some trial and error when you’re new at something.  As a first-generation college student that was definitely the case for me. But, I stuck with it, worked as hard as I could, and ultimately reached my goal of receiving my degree.”

-Drew Story, Academic Advisor


“Being a first-generation student, I knew that college offered an untold amount of opportunities, but I could’ve never guessed the challenges that came with it. Without the support and encouragement of TRiO, I don’t think I could have completed my Bachelors, let alone my Master’s degree.”

-Jared Cadwallader, Business Recruiter


“I grew up in an underserved area of Kentucky, where very few students attended or graduated from college. However, my parents always pushed me to be the first in our family to go to college and graduate. I take great pride in being a first-generation college student, and it allows me to be able to relate to, and help TU’s first-generation college students. My goal is to help our students achieve and experience things they never dreamed were possible!”

-Dennis L. Ashford, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Chemistry