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I'm First Faculty & PhD Directory

Check out our Community Directory of faculty and PhD students at Northwestern who were all first generation college students. Learn more about their journeys and reach out to connect.

Northwestern Faculty Members - Were you a first generation college student?

I'm First Faculty & PhD

Michael Allen

Michael Allen

Associate Professor, History

Educational Background

University of Chicago, BA; Northwestern University, MA; Northwestern University, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

As the son of divorced working-class parents who grew up in rural Kansas, I was fortunate to be the first in my family to attend or graduate college. For me, being first-gen often means feeling betwixt and between, distant from those I grew up around without feeling fully at home in the communities I now inhabit. That distance is essential to my critical acuity as a scholar but can also be personally painful. I know intimately the transformative power of education even as I remain keenly aware of how few people have the opportunities to learn, grow, and prosper that I enjoy at Northwestern. I try to make the most of those invaluable opportunities--and to make them available to others like me--in order to feel more at home in this, my adopted home.

Rhiannon Auriemma

Rhiannon Auriemma

PhD Candidate, Political Science

Educational Background

Eugene Lang College, BA in Liberal Arts; The New School for Social Research, MA in Politics

What does being first generation mean to me?

I grew up in northern New Jersey. I attended college as a first-generation low-income student. Being a first-generation college student is a big achievement and, for me, it meant setting a good example for my younger brother. I wanted for him to see that there were opportunities available to him should he want to go to college.

Neal Blair

Neal Blair

Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Earth and Planetary Science

Educational Background

University of Maryland – College Park, BS in Chemistry; Stanford, PhD in Chemistry

What does being first generation mean to me?

I grew up in rural Maryland and was the first in my family to go to college, and the only in my immediate family to finish. Possessing an affinity for chemistry and a love for the countryside, I gravitated to geochemistry as a field. My PhD was in Organic Chemistry at Stanford.

Robyn Bockrath

Robyn Bockrath

Attending Physician, Instructor of Pediatrics, Associate Clerkship Director, PBL Co-Director

Educational Background

Bachelor of Arts - Miami University; MD from Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine; Masters of Medical Education from University of Cincinnati

What does being first generation mean to me?

Originally from a small town in Ohio, it means making my father, who was a farmer, and my mother, who was primarily a home-maker, proud.

Kevin Boyle

Kevin Boyle

William Smith Mason Professor of American History

Educational Background

University of Detroit, BA; University of Michigan, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

My dad wanted nothing more than to go to college. He’d tried for a little while when my brother and I were young. But it was too hard to head off to classes after a full day of work. So he let it go, with only a handful of old textbooks down in the basement to remind us of the effort he’d made. Being a first-gen means a lot of things to me, some of them abstract, some of them concrete, a few of them uncomfortably self-indulgent. Mostly, though, it means that I got to do what my dad dreamed of doing, and to have the chance to make him proud.

Crystal Castaneda

Crystal Castaneda

Pediatrics Attending, Hospital Based Medicine, Feinberg

Educational Background

Yale, BA; Cornell, MD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I come from (what I like to call) a big, fat Mexican family - not unlike the deeply interwoven, sometimes chaotic, but loving family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Both my parents have seven siblings each, and I grew up with too many cousins to count and family members all over the country and many still in Mexico. Both my parents are from Mexico - my mother came as an infant but often returned to Mexico for months at a time to help my great grandmother; and my father when he was 17 years old to help financially support his family back in Mexico.

Though many may judge the way he came (illegally crossing the Rio Grande, walking through vast desert, navigating via unruly transportation to get to Chicago to meet his father and work every type of job you can imagine), I am proud of how much he has accomplished and how much effort he put into making sure his future family would never experience the poverty he did. My parents are very intelligent but were unable to go to college, and they eventually worked jobs in information technology despite their humble roots. They valued education and instilled a strong work ethic into me and my siblings so that we could do more than they ever dreamed of accomplishing.

Claudia Castillo

Claudia Castillo

PhD Candidate, Human Development and Social Policy

Educational Background

Rutgers University, BA; Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, Executive Masters in Public Administration

What does being first generation mean to me?

I am a child of the diaspora. I was born and raised in Colombia and came to the United States at age 11. As a PhD student and first-generation high school and college graduate I am interested in understanding the transition from high school to college among minorities student populations in higher education. I am particularly interested in understanding the importance of participation in communities of practices that positively transform perceptions of self and that help to rethink what it means to learn and belong.

Lindsay Chase-Lansdale

Lindsay Chase-Lansdale

Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Vice Provost for Academics

Educational Background

Harvard, AB; University of Michigan, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

It means that I am so grateful to my parents who sacrificed and worked to give me amazing educational opportunities. It also means that there is a lot to learn about university life, college education, and career opportunities. It also means being a pioneer and feeling inspired!

Jean Clipperton

Jean Clipperton

Assistant Professor of Instruction

Educational Background

Simpson College, BA; University of Michigan, MA, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

It's about developing a passion for asking big questions and navigating the process by myself. I'm happy to serve as a resource or mentor for those learning to make their way in college life.

Lisa Corrin

Lisa Corrin

Senior Lecturer; Ellen Philips Katz Director, Block Museum of Art

What does being first generation mean to me?

I know first-hand the complexity of the experience to be the first in your family to take part in a college journey. While such campaigns as “I’m First” did not exist during my college years, I am so glad that this status now constitutes a visible community at Northwestern and across the nation.  First-generation college students have a special understanding of one another’s experiences and it is a group I am proud to stand with. My decision to be an educator and to give back as a mentor is my way of honoring my family and my own mentors who paved the way for the extraordinary opportunities I have had since I attended college.

Bernard Dobroski

Bernard Dobroski

Professor, Music Studies

Educational Background

Carnegie Mellon, BFA; Catholic University, MM, Northwestern University PhD

What does being first-generation mean to you?

Being first-generation means forging new, exciting paths.

Stephanie Edgerly

Stephanie Edgerly

Assistant Professor, Journalism

Educational Background

University of California Santa Barbara, BA in Communication and Political Science; University of Wisconsin-Madison, PhD in Mass Communication

What does being first-generation mean to you?

As a student and now a professor, it means that I often have to convince myself that I belong here and that, even though I don’t have the support and experiences that many of my peers do, I can still succeed.

Myrna Garcia

Myrna Garcia

Assistant Professor of Instruction, Latina and Latino Studies

Educational Background 

University of Illinois, BA in Latin American Studies; Fordham University, MS in Education; University of California – San Diego, PhD in Ethnic Studies 

What does being first generation mean to me?

Being first generation means being expected to understand the tacit rules and cultural norms of the academy. Our mere presence in the academy transgresses those dominant frameworks, and sometimes it comes with a great toll. Still, we must heal, and continue with our journey on the rugged, uncharted terrain. The stakes are high. We undertake academic endeavors because of and for our communities. As the eldest daughter of Mexican immigrants, I am indebted to my family’s history of trabajadores. It has inspired me to overcome the hardships I’ve encountered in my schooling. I struggled to grasp why my experiences were “illegible” to the institution or why I was one of a few people of color in academic settings and professional spaces. I now understand the structural forces shaping these conditions, and I have dedicated my life’s work to cultivating a space for radical possibilities, transformative learning, and knowledge production.

Ava Greenwell

Ava Greenwell

Professor of Journalism

Educational Background

Northwestern University, BS in Journalism; Northwestern University, MS in Journalism; Northwestern University, PhD in African American Studies

What does being first generation mean to me?

Being first-generation means that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and I expect future generations will stand on my shoulders. My grandmother, who was born in 1918, was only able to complete 8th grade. My mother was able to go to college for two years, but then ran out of money. The fact that I was able to complete a Ph.D. in 2014 is beyond my wildest dreams.

Educational Background

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, BA; Northwestern University, MSJ

What does being first generation mean to me?

For me, being first-generation is a sense of accomplishment. My parents were divorced and my dad, supportive though he was, didn't know how to navigate the college application process and we almost never discussed it. But for me, not going to college wasn't an option;

I didn't want to work in the industries that employed most of the people of my dad's generation in my hometown. I trusted that a college education would help me see and experience a world well beyond my hometown. I was fortunate to make life-long friendships with other first-generation students (although none of us knew that the other was first-gen when we met) who came from similar situations and who faced similar challenges.

Sean Hanretta

Sean Hanretta

Associate Professor of History

Educational Background

University of Wisconsin-Madison, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I am interested in reversing the narrative that first-gen students experience "challenges" and instead focus on the unique assets that first-gen students bring to the campus community.

Stephen Hersh

Stephen Hersh

Lecturer, Integrated Marketing Communications

Educational Background

University of Michigan, BA; Northwestern, MA

What does being first generation mean to me?

I am the child of immigrants from Poland who didn't speak English very well, but were successful small business owners in the United States. My dad went to grade school for only two years before he had to go to work, and my mom stayed in school longer--she graduated from grade school. I grew up living in my parents' foreign culture at home, and in American culture at school. I understand it can be hard to succeed at getting good grades in classes when the people you grew up around did not have a lot of education. My older sister and I were the first in the family to go to college.

I had a 30 year career working mainly for large companies in advertising and marketing, and now I teach in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern and have a small marketing consulting business. I like to partner and problem-solve with students who have made it into college but feel a little overwhelmed by the academic work.

Donna Jurdy

Donna Jurdy

Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences

 

Educational Background

University of Michigan, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I always say that I'm a 'Sputnik-kid': my education and subsequent career was made possible by the resulting space program that blossomed in October 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik. Living in public housing, aka "the projects", my family did not interact with college graduates. Fortunately, my father even with only a 6th grade education, and from a Middle Eastern heritage, could see the importance of education. He sent girls to college when it was uncommon with his peer group. My father and Sputnik opened the door for my career in science. I am so grateful for having that opportunity. The journey's been wonderful.

Joshua Kissel

Joshua Kissel

PhD Candidate, Philosophy

JoshuaKissel2014@u.northwestern.edu

 

Educational Background

University of Wisconsin–Madison, BA; Northwestern University, MA

What does being first generation mean to me?

It means I'm lucky (and grateful) to be here. There are many things I could have done better had my family and I been more familiar with the college experience. Being first-generation also means I’m especially thankful to my teachers who made college, however confusing, that much easier to navigate. I suffer from imposter syndrome like many others, but it is undoubtedly subdued by their advising and support. For that reason, I want to ensure I am able to offer support for other students, first-generation or not, who might benefit from the advice or ear that was often given to me.

Nancy Kuntz

Nancy Kuntz

Professor of Pediatrics

Educational Background

Boston University, MD

What does being first generation mean to me?

Navigating college was difficult for me, but I just assumed that this was what everyone experienced...it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that I was a first-generation college student. Not knowing how to pick classes and struggling to decipher financial aid information are just a few examples of how I felt "behind" everyone else. The support I had from my parents, friends, and mentors helped to get me where I am today. As a part of Northwestern, I want to be able to provide support for other first-generation students to make sure they can be successful.

Elena Lanza

Elena Lanza

Associate Professor of Instruction, Spanish and Portuguese

Educational Background

University of Illinois at Chicago, MA

What does being first generation mean to me?

I was born in a small, rural town in the North of Spain. I always took my studies very seriously, even as a child. My town only had an elementary school, so I had to go to the bigger city to live with my grandparents in order to enroll in high school. I got good grades and when I graduated, I went to the University of Salamanca, a prestigious university where I completed my bachelors degree while I worked in different part-time jobs. Going to college was an important achievement in my family, and my parents made a tremendous financial effort so that I would be able to graduate and fulfill my dream to become a Spanish teacher. I also studied abroad in the UK and afterwards came to the US to attend grad school. I have been teaching Spanish at NU since 2003, but my life today would have never been possible without my parents' sacrifice and support, and my hard work and dedication to not disappoint them and myself.

Monica Laronda

Monica Laronda

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

Educational Background

Bridgewater State University, BS; Northwestern University, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I come from a rural, small town in MA. I am the oldest of 4 children who grew up with all four grandparents either in our home or in the house next door. My dad went to vocational high school and took over his dad's automotive repair and towing business when he was young. My mom worked in a bank until I was born. I was to go to college and also the first to move away when I decided to come to NU for my PhD.

Educational Background

University of Texas at Austin, BA

What does being first generation mean to me?

I know what a close-run it was getting here—I got super lucky. I grew up low-income with English as my second language. Most of the friends I had growing up either dropped out of high school, did not consider college after graduation, or only lasted a year or two. At times I felt like an outsider, lacking social capital, but it has been worth it. I am appreciative of all the things that got me here--good and bad. I encourage everyone reading this to volunteer at an underprivileged K-12 school so students there know more about being first-gen and that it can be done.

Christine McCary

Christine McCary

Associate Professor of Instruction; Weinberg College Adviser

christine.mccary@northwestern.edu

 

Educational Background

University of Maryland, BS; Northwestern University, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

It means being proud of my academic accomplishments and giving equal honor to the work my family members in previous generations have done. Though I am first-generation "higher education", so many of my family members were talented, first-generation "something else": entrepreneurs, builders, public servants, and tradespeople.

Julissa Muñiz

Julissa Muñiz

PhD Candidate, Human Development and Social Policy

Educational Background

University of California, Berkeley, BA; Harvard Graduate School of Education-Ed.M; Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy, PhD Candidate

What does being first generation mean to me?

I am a first generation high school and college graduate. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of California Berkeley. Upon graduating I was awarded the Judith Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, a distinguished public service fellowship that allowed me to work in prisons as a GED Instructor at San Quentin State Prison and a writing workshop facilitator at the San Francisco local youth guidance center. Most recently I was awarded the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans given I am also first generation born in the United States. 

The fellowship experience coupled with other personal experiences sparked my desire to learn more about how adjudicated youth experience and conceptualize their academic self. Most recently, I graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a master’s in education specifically the Prevention Science and Practice program. However, my greatest accomplishment has been raising my brilliant and courageous daughter Amaris.

Robert Orsi

Robert Orsi

Professor of Religious Studies

Educational Background

Trinity College, BA; Yale University, PhD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I grew up in an immigrant working class Italian American family in the Bronx. I am the only member of my extended family to go to college.

Andrew Papachristos

Andrew Papachristos

Professor, Sociology & IPR

Educational Background

Loyola University Chicago, BS; University of Chicago, PhD

What does being first-generation mean to you?

Perhaps one of the most pervasive feelings I associate with being first gen is the “imposter complex,” the sense that I shouldn't be here and it’s just a matter of time before someone figures it out. For me, this was true as an undergraduate student, even more true as a graduate student, and continues to linger even today. What I realize now is that some part of this feeling was simply not knowing about things that other students knew—about the importance of going to office hours, acquiring research experience, finding a good summer internship, or even studying abroad. However, I can say 20 years after college, that being first gen—and how it affected the way I experienced college—better prepared me for life after college than many of my non-first gen friends.

I had a better sense of time management, how to interact with people outside of the classroom in a variety of settings, and how to complete tasks on time and with a sense of professionalism. The reason is I had to do all of these things just to get through college. There was less of a “shock” of leaving college and entering the “real world” because, for me, paying for and making my way towards graduation was already the “real world.” I had to deal with bureaucracies, make decisions that had real effects on whether I was going to eat and where I was going to live, and had to have employment both inside and outside the college setting.

Elizabeth Ryan

Elizabeth Ryan

Vice Chair of Education and Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine

e-ryan@northwestern.edu

 

Educational Background

Loyola University of Chicago, MEd and EdD

What does being first generation mean to me?

I was the first to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in my family.  My father had attended college but did not finish a degree.  Due to the times my mother was sent to Secretarial School (she was capable of running a Fortune 500 company). My mother never talked about what she didn't have but encouraged educational pursuits during a time in my life when I was still looking for my fit.  The time when you ask, what do I want to do with my life, she would reply take a class that interests you. Through my work and education at Loyola I found my fit. I worked full time during my Masters and Doctoral studies in Education at Loyola University of Chicago.  For me, I worked hard as a first-generation student but through a beautiful journey, I found my fit.     

Babette Sanders

Babette Sanders

Professor, Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences

Educational Background

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, BS; Long Island University, MS; Simmons College, DPT

What does being first generation mean to me?

My parents immigrated from Germany in 1936, neither of whom were college graduates. To honor their sacrifices, both my sister and I graduated from college and have had successful careers.  

James Spillane

James Spillane

Olin Professor in Learning & Organizational Change

Educational Background

St. Patrick's College, Bed; California State University Chico, MA; Michigan State University, PhD 

What does being first generation mean to me?

I am a first generation high school graduate. Growing up in rural Ireland in the 1960's and 70's, my parents instilled in my five siblings and me an appreciation for doing well in school though both of them had to leave schooling after elementary education, the norm for working class children of their generation. They worked seven days a week on a small family dairy farm to make ends meet and support six children, urging us to do well in school and providing constant support with the help of an extended family. Though I failed to appreciate it as a child, they sacrificed so much for us and for that I am now deeply thankful and know I can never pay them back for all they did for our sake and gave up for themselves. I try to pay back by paying forward by reaching out and supporting others who are first generation high school or college.  

Suzan Van Der Lee

Suzan Van Der Lee

Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences

Educational Background

Utrecht University – The Netherlands, MS; Princeton University, PhD

What does being first-generation mean to me?

Being first generation means that I was given the privilege to counterbalance the cultural norms that prevented my parents from going to college. My mother became a home-making teacher to help support the college education of her brothers, and my father needed to make a living after several years of high school and became a sailor on the Holland-America Line. I have learned and accomplished many things the hard way, but it’s been a great honor to have experienced individual and mentored success in academia and I feel proud to have helped educate a group of talented students along the way that is even more diverse than in my own experience.

Educational Background

University of Wisconsin, Superior BA; University of Oregon, MA

What does being first-generation mean to me?

I'm a first-generation college graduate from rural northern Wisconsin. I joined the workforce at fourteen as a berry picker and later began serving tables which paid my bills for more than seven years. Earning a bachelor's degree, a master's, and now a Ph.D. has been more than just hard intellectual work. Integration into a new social environment also posed, and continues to pose, a unique set of challenges. Academic achievement also means cultivating an identity that straddles two kinds of cultures, which can be difficult. I think it's important for first-gen students to share our experiences and challenges within the context of a supportive community with formal recognition from NU.

Charles Whitaker

Charles Whitaker

Professor and Associate Dean, Medill

Educational Background

Northwestern University, BA; Northwestern University, MS

What does being first generation mean to me?

For me, being a first generation college student is a reflection of the hard work and sacrifice of my parents, two brilliant people who were born in the dawn of the Great Depression, and whose educational opportunities were circumscribed by structural poverty and racism. It was their dream to help make my professional and educational dreams come true.

Deborah Wood

Deborah Wood

Lecturer, The Writing Program

deborah.wood@northwestern.edu

Learn more about Deborah here.

Educational Background

Illinois State University, BA; Columbia College, MA in Interdisciplinary Arts.

What does being first generation mean to me?

To me, first-gen means having two degrees after my name, degrees that my father always wished he'd had. I always assumed I'd go to college and can't imagine what my life would have been like had I not. Going to a large state university for my undergrad degree exposed me not only to people from different ethnic backgrounds but also those from small towns, who often had remarkably different backgrounds and perspectives from what I was used to. When, on a whim, I decided to write for the student newspaper, I gained an even broader perspective and a gateway to my lifelong career — writing, mostly in journalism.

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