University life is uncharted territory for first-generation college students. Many of these seniors came to Northwestern, sometimes sight unseen, and discovered a new land of opportunity — and obstacles — with a language and culture all its own. The University is working to ease the transition for first-generation students, who make up roughly 9 percent of the undergraduate population, by offering expanded resources and staff support. But for these trailblazing seniors, it was not always easy. Yet with perseverance and resilience they have set a course for future generations — and changed the University along the way.


Lizet Alba

Lizet Alba: On her own

Alba co-founded Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Northwestern and interned at both Telemundo or Univision. She says, as a first-generation college student, "you do it pretty much on your own." Read more.

Alexandri Hoffman

ALexandria Hoffman

Hoffman led the Northwestern University Marching Band's flute and piccolo section, played in the Symphonic Wind Ensemble — the University’s top wind group — and performed in the orchestra for the Waa-Mu Show. Read more.

Abby Issarraras

Abby issarraras

“I didn’t really feel like I belonged here from the first day,” says Issarraras, who at times felt overwhelmed and underprepared from a social and cultural perspective. Read more.

Stacy Kim

Stacy Kim

“Struggle is the norm in my hometown. To come to a school like Northwestern, where that’s definitely not the dominant narrative, was pretty shocking," says Kim. Read more.

Alaa Mohamedali

Alaa Mohamedali

An aspiring pediatrician, Mohamedali hopes to volunteer or work in Uganda or her homeland, Sudan, where she lived before moving to the United States at age 7. Read more.

Sebastian Rodriguez

Sebastian Rodriguez

When Rodriguez nailed a 4.0” in spring 2015 while working multiple jobs to help his parents financially, commuting from home on Chicago’s Northwest Side and taking four engineering courses, “that was really a moment of pride.” Read more.

Thaddeus Tukes

Thaddeus Tukes: Good Vibes

Tukes co-founded the popular student jazz-based band the Syndicate, launched Ra Sol Greater Minds — a music-content consulting group — and joined the Associated Student Government as the first vice president of diversity and inclusion. Read more.

Abigail Turay

Abigail turay: POwered Up

Turay spent three summers interning at ComEd and played the piccolo for four years with the Northwestern University Marching Band. She says first-generation students should never think of themselves as disadvantaged. Read more.