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College of Education

College of Education
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1114 Mid-Campus Drive North
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506

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A Walk in My Shoes: First Generation College Students

A video documentary produced by the K-State College of Education.

What's it like to be the first one in your family to go to college?

Millions of first-generation college students arrive on college campuses across the nation every day. With them, they bring their pasts, their cultures, their hopes, their fears, and their dreams. This inspirational documentary delves into the lives of eight first-generation college students, five preservice teachers and three successful educators, who chose a profession dedicated to a concept they are all committed to: changing lives.

View the full documentary here:

Individual Stories

“ESL equals gifted”

Helene Nguyen is the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who struggled in the classroom. Placed in an ESL program for years, teachers thought she needed remedial help. However, once tested, they realized she was gifted. Nguyen is happy her younger brother has decided to attend college, and she even inspired her mom to take English classes.

“Overcoming childhood trauma”

Lisa Mead described her childhood as “tragic.” Her mother died when she was 4 years old, and her father and stepmother were abusive. They were on the brink of turning Mead over to social services when her maternal grandmother took her in. She had a warm bed, clothes and food, but life was never the same without her mother. Mead’s limited but meaningful connections with teachers helped sustain her, and now she is on the way to becoming a teacher – exactly what her mother hoped to be.

“Unwavering family support”

Ciera Cathey was adopted at age 2 and lived a happy childhood in Lyndon, Kansas. She was diagnosed with ADHD and a teacher helped her focus by giving her more challenging assignments. In middle school, she was treated differently for the first time because she was biracial, but those issues subsided when she got to Topeka High School.

“Intrinsic motivation”

Jessica Leichter, Shawnee, Kansas, had the perfect childhood and always knew she wanted to be a teacher. People are surprised to learn neither of her parents went to college since she lived in affluent Johnson County. Her mother describes herself as a “functioning illiterate” and her father was discouraged from going to college by a guidance counselor. Her parents were determined their daughter would graduate from college.

“Dissolving Sterotypes”

Kris Bailey’s story challenges preconceived notions. He is a non-traditional student who grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, and moved to Kansas City, Kansas, when he was 12. Raised by his grandparents, the teenager dealt with a new school and struggled to fit in. He tested into Sumner Academy, an international baccalaureate school, where he decided to become a social studies teacher. Bailey strives to be a role model for African-American men who want to become teachers.

“Divine calling”

Chuck Allen is the founder and executive director of the Urban Scholastic Center, or USC, in Kansas City, Kansas. After earning his degree in education, he started teaching in the affluent Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kansas. His faith drew him back to his roots in a high-poverty area of Wyandotte County where he opened the USC for at-risk, urban core youth.

“Paying it forward”

Martin Segovia, athletic director and vice principal at Garden City High School, opens up about challenges he faced as one of only seven Latinos on the University of Nebraska–Kearney campus. A doctor in his hometown of Garden City supported and encouraged Segovia throughout his education, showing the aspiring teacher how to pay it forward.

“Living the American dream”

Angelica Villanueva is a science teacher at Dodge City High School where she and her five siblings graduated from high school. The family lived in a one-bedroom bungalow, and Villanueva’s father, Narciso Ruiz, did not take a day off work from his job at a meat packing plant in more than 36 years. The example he set for his family goes to work everyday with Villanueva who sees her brothers and sisters in the faces of the students in her classroom.

Advice from the Participants

A companion eBook is available at New Prairie Press.

Published April 2016

Recommended Citation:
Kim, Jeong-Hee; Morales, Amanda R.; Earl, Rusty; and Avalos, Sandra, "Being the “First”: A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education" (2016). NPP eBooks. Book 7.

Creative Commons License

Being the “First”: A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education
by Kansas State University College of Education is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.