As a first-generation college student, I am deeply aware of the hidden challenges that emerge throughout the higher education experience. Without family to call and ask about their experiences with school, the importance of developing a network of peers and advisors is critical to closing the financial knowledge and resource gap that troubles so many college students. I learned firsthand the difficulties in knowing what steps to take after graduation, how to continue on a path toward developing a successful career. After some years of post-college soul searching, I am back in school earning a MA in Media Studies & Production through Temple’s Klein College.
Learning how to afford an education, when to speak up for myself, how to conduct myself in unfamiliar social dynamics—the lack of knowledge, and particularly the resources to find the answers—can hurt a student’s confidence and can negatively impact their career trajectory. Having a sense of preparedness is important to seize opportunities, and fortunately, there are organizations at Temple dedicated to serving the needs of first-generation students like myself.
Kamina Richardson, assistant program director and Fox pre-law advisor in the Department of Legal Studies, is also a proud first-generation college graduate.
“Education saved my life,” says Richardson. “I realized that opportunities aren’t just handed to you. You learn through education, and it allowed me to become a resource for students.”
Richardson is a faculty advisor for Temple First, an SPO created to serve the needs of first-generation college students attending Temple University. Founded in 2017, the organization helps students navigate the college experience and successfully transition into the workforce after graduating by offering mentors, counseling, career resources and life skills sessions.
“I help out whoever I can because I know what it’s like to not know,” says Richardson. “I send out a newsletter to students offering things to do to help navigate college. I want students to be aware of what’s going on, and to use those available tools. I was brought in to help our students and prepare them for real-world experiences that will challenge what they learned in college and apply themselves.”
Temple First is affiliated with the Collective Success Network, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that empowers first-generation students to perform their best in school and in the workplace. Both the Collective Success Network and Temple First aim to promote financial literacy, leadership skills and networking opportunities in order to guide students toward both academic and professional success in their lives.
“I overextended myself as a student, and no one warned me about that,” says Richardson. “As a first-gen student, you have to know what’s possible. I want to help students avoid getting into difficult situations like that.”
Having support from someone with knowledge from past experiences can be a valuable resource in focusing your efforts. In her role as an advisor, Ms. Richardson likes to promote critical thinking skills by teaching students to ask intentional questions in order to find better answers. Critical thinking is an essential skill to develop in a world that can be highly competitive, in which people on uneven playing fields apply for the same jobs and opportunities.
“Once you get out in the business world you’re swimming with sharks,” says Richardson. “You don’t want to be a goldfish swimming out there, you’ll be eaten up real quick. This is your time to figure out your leadership skills, how to learn about your strengths and weaknesses so your weaknesses won’t be used against you.”