First Things First

Posted on December 11, 2023 by USA Marketing and Communications
USA Marketing and Communications

While some students at South follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents, the University’s many first-generation students are blazing a new path for future generations. We asked first-year first-gen students to reflect on their experiences.

Williams HernandezFor Williams Hernandez, a first-generation college student from Theodore, Alabama, the Summer Start program relieved his fears and gave him confidence that he could succeed at the University of South Alabama.

The 18-year-old was born in Arizona but grew up near Mobile. He’s majoring in biomedical sciences.

“I was really scared, really nervous, but once I got to know some of my classmates, we helped each other out. It got a lot easier. After Summer Start, we started a group chat on Snapchat. We wanted to know how everyone was doing. We stay in touch to this day.

“I’ve already met a lot of people at South. I have a good friend who’s Vietnamese, and he’s sharing his culture and food with me. We stay late on campus, studying at the library. We’ve been going to this Vietnamese store to get $2 spring rolls.

“I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m really motivated to succeed. I feel like if you want it, you can do it. You’ve got to come in with that mindset. You know, my mother was pregnant with me when she came to this country. She took all these risks for me. I think about that a lot. So I want to make her proud.”

Madison RyanMadison Ryan, a first-generation college student from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, grew up taking cellphone photos and Polaroid snapshots of her friends. It became her thing. At South, she’s majoring in fine arts with a concentration in photography.

She’s working part time and making friends in her art courses.

“I’m taking Introduction to Photography, and there’s only eight of us in the class, which is good, so there’s a lot of one-on-one with the professor. I didn’t even know we were going to start off with film photography, going through the developing process and making prints. It’s weird, taking pictures without knowing how they’re going to turn out. We have a lot of creative freedom, and my friends model for me and help out with my assignments.

“I found one person in my Perceptual Drawing class who is a photography major. We have similar styles and common interests. Another of my friends is a graphic design major. We have a lot in common.

“I met my roommate for the first time, which was a strange experience. I haven’t shared a room with someone since I was a little girl. I was worried that my roommate would be crazy, but she’s not crazy. She’s from Pensacola, and she also worked at Publix. We’ve already talked about rooming together again next semester.”

Gary MortonGary Morton, a military veteran studying to become a social studies teacher, has a family connection to South — his wife, also a veteran, is a senior.

He served with Army intelligence in Afghanistan, which helps him make sense of conflicts that date back centuries.

“When I was an intel guy, we were students of history. You have to understand the culture of a place and how they got to where they are. American history has always been a big thing for me, too. Whenever I travel, I’m always buying the history of this or the history of that. In history class here, I’m always talking, always taking part in the discussion.

“One of the teaching assistants said I have a feel for history; I have a passion for it. I was thinking that one day I could be teaching students about the war in Afghanistan, and I was actually there.

“Most of the students here are straight out of high school with no life experience, so I get asked all kinds of questions. Hey, you’re an adult, what does this mean?

“I’m trying to enjoy college as much as I can, but I treat it as a job, basically. You know, I’ve got a mortgage, a car payment, the whole nine yards. I’m already thinking that I need to start working so I can put money into retirement.”

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