Current First-Generation Students

Current First-Generation Student Chronicles

Taylor PerryTaylor Perry

Tell us about why you chose Ball State University.

I chose Ball State University primarily due to the Architecture program, which is recognized as one of the best in the State of Indiana. The program's curriculum, in particular, aligned with my academic objectives, encouraging a hands-on approach and real-world scenarios. Additionally, the atmosphere of Ball State University made me feel at home. The University is able to offer many diverse opportunities while also having a sense of belonging and comfort when you are here. 

What were you the most nervous about in coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

I was most anxious about finding my place in college. In high school, I was familiar with everyone, having attended school with the same group of individuals for 12 years. I had a clear understanding of my identity and the expectations that were placed upon me. Transitioning to a new environment and attempting to locate where I truly belonged left me feeling confused. My first year of college was rough trying to connect with others and trying to find a friend group that I would be able to grow with and share the college experience with. Fortunately, through my involvement in various organizations, particularly the Student Government Association, I found where I belonged—surrounded by individuals who would accompany me throughout my college journey and into life.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

I have been fortunate to experience substantial personal growth since my enrollment at Ball State University. One trait that has consistently defined me and that I brought with me to college is my strong work ethic. I maintain high standards for myself and how I allocate my time. Within the College of Architecture, there are instances when there are multiple projects due, and there has to be commitment to both the work at hand and the desired professional image. I have witnessed the rewards of hard work and firmly believe that there are benefits that come with it. My work ethic and my commitment to my pursuits have helped me succeed in college. 

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you? 

The most challenging aspect I've encountered in college is the realization that it differs significantly from high school. During my first years in college, I expected to work in the same manner as I did in high school. However, I had to come to terms with the fact that the academic environment —and I— had evolved. In high school, I eagerly participated in every club and extracurricular that sparked my interest. Over time, I've recognized that, in college, my time is limited, and I must prioritize activities that truly benefit me and bring me happiness. I've learned not to dwell on the idea that I should be performing at the same level as I did in high school, as my priorities have shifted. I've decided to concentrate my efforts on my academic work and a few clubs, dedicating my full attention and effort to these endeavors, rather than spreading myself thin by attempting to engage in everything with only partial commitment.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s at Ball State University.

I can recall two things that stand out as the proudest in my years at Ball State. The first is in my academics, particularly when I complete an architecture project. As I undertake more and more projects, I not only accumulate knowledge but also witness my growth within the architecture profession. A project is never really finished, but when I submit it and present it, I can reflect on all of the new things that I have learned. I take pride in my ability to manage the workload and, more importantly, in my ability to acknowledge the lessons learned from each project. 

The second moment of pride I experienced at Ball State University relates to my involvement in the Student Government Association. Initially, I only became a member to represent my residence hall. During my first year with the organization, I remained quiet and didn’t take on many roles. It wasn't until my second year that I fully immersed myself in the matters at hand and actively sought to effect positive change. At the end of my second year, I was not only nominated but also successfully elected to a position on the executive board. Winning that election was a defining moment that filled me with a sense of pride for what I had been able to accomplish as well as what I would be able to accomplish in the future. 

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

I wish I had known that everything would turn out fine. I used to worry that I wouldn't be able to manage the workload, that I wouldn't be able to make friends, and that I wouldn't discover my life's purpose. Making friends and creating memories can't be forced—they tend to find you naturally. I wish I had realized that I would have a strong support system that would encourage me to take risks. I wish I had known that I would succeed. 

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State University, or in their first year at Ball State?

My advice is to be patient and give it your best effort. You may encounter a learning curve, as I did when navigating the college experience, but knowledge will come to you with time. Additionally, I want to emphasize the importance of taking pride in your achievements. As a first-generation student, I am proud that I am here to pursue higher education and improve my prospects. Lastly, I encourage you to have fun. While there might be pressure to be perfect and succeed, it's important to understand that it's OK to fail at times. It builds character. Overall, work hard, enjoy your journey, and always remember your roots.

First Generation Students

Kenneth HarrisonKenneth Harrison

Tell us about why you chose Ball State University.

I chose Ball State University because the overall atmosphere is very nice. It’s a big campus, but it feels more like a community, and it is easy to make a group of friends.

What were you the most nervous about in coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

Coming from a smaller, private school, I was most nervous about the amount of people and the size of the campus. Just being in the moment helped me get through it. Once you navigate through things, it starts to feel small in a community sense.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

I’ve been pretty well off academically here at Ball State. When I was in middle school, my grades weren’t very good. In high school, I had this “underdog mentality” that helped me become the salutatorian of my class. My work ethic and problem-solving skills have helped me succeed so far.

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you?

While I feel like my work ethic is pretty good, I think time management has been my biggest challenge. Making time to study and do homework instead of waiting until the last few hours to do it has been the biggest adjustment.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s at Ball State University.

During the Fall, I received an internship offer from a company that I met during an Accounting Club meeting. This Spring, I’ll be working at DOZ (Dauby, O'Connor & Zaleski, LLC) during the busy season. That has been my proudest moment so far as a Ball State University student.

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

I assumed that because Ball State University is a bigger college than I was expecting, that making friends would be incredibly easy. Looking back, I would like to have been a little more outgoing and proactive in pursuing friendships.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State University, or in their first year at Ball State?

My advice would be that while taking academics seriously is very important, there will also be a lot of free time to do outgoing things and pursue your interests, such as joining clubs.

KwaTashea MarfoKwaTashea Marfo

Tell us why you chose Ball State University.

During my freshman year of high school, I took an Introduction to Journalism course with a teacher who is a Ball State alum. Throughout the course, she would talk about the extracurricular activities and opportunities she had when she was a student here. I took it as my sign to look into Ball State. Today, I can say I’m glad I looked into it; I was able to find my calling in public relations.

What made you the most nervous about coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

I have social anxiety. I knew how to be a student. But I wondered what it would be like for me to be someone outside of the classroom in the college setting. That was my biggest challenge: figuring out who I am outside of the classroom.

I didn't force myself out of my comfort zone all at once. I took it one step at a time. For example, if there was someone in class who didn’t understand the assignment, I would invite the person to lunch and discuss the assignment. Or, if I didn’t understand the assignment, I talked to my professors. For me, it has been about the little ways to make personal connections.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

My perseverance and optimism. I've been through a lot in life. But I know you have to see the good in things. That’s something I do at Ball State, whether I'm having a hard time in class, I'm struggling through final exams, or dealing with life itself. I stay positive and I keep going.

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you?

It was the fact that I am balancing being a first-generation college student. It's kind of a lot of pressure on me to succeed—not just for myself, but to make my family proud of me.

I had two siblings who went through college, but they dropped out before they could walk the stage. Now it's just me in college. I also have two younger brothers who look up to me for inspiration. Pair all of this with my father who migrated to the United States in 1999. His main goal has always been providing a better education for his children.

I want to make my family proud. But I know no matter what I choose to do with my life in terms of college, I need to do it for me, too. I have to balance their aspirations with my determination.

Tell us about your proudest moment(s) at Ball State University.

My time at Ball State has been a powerful journey of networking with like-minded peers dedicated to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within and beyond the classroom. This experience has become my calling, a purpose-driven path, as I passionately commit to serving the greater good and fostering positive change in our educational community and society as a whole.

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

Your college experience is what you make of it and what you take from it. It's a constant continuation of how you're evolving as a person.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State, or who are in their first year at Ball State?

My biggest advice for incoming or first-year students at Ball State would be finding niche ways to exhibit your personality that make you more welcoming. If you're anxious about interacting with people, how do you know the person next to you isn’t also anxious to have a conversation? If you're the one who initiates the conversation, it can eliminate that fear factor. Make people feel welcomed, just like you would want to feel. Also, breathe—and never let fear determine your fate.

Frank Diaz MoralesFrank Diaz Morales

Tell us why you chose Ball State University.

When I first came to Ball State, I felt right at home almost immediately. I envisioned myself thriving here. When you interact with Ball State students, faculty, and staff, you can feel the community and the support system that you have here.

What made you the most nervous about coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

I was nervous I was not going to be able to represent myself as a first-generation college student the way I did in high school. Other worries—such as, not knowing anyone here, coming from a small town, and whether I would have a support system—filled my head.

I was able to overcome that by engaging with professors and other students to make connections and discover opportunities for myself, especially within the First-Gen connection community. I attended community conversation events and tabletop talks. I had to put myself out there in order to create a community for myself.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

I think one of the most important qualities that I brought with me is networking. When you begin to network, you open a door with endless opportunities and connections that could benefit you. Even if you are not interested [in those opportunities], you can refer them to people who are. This allows you to have multiple connections that could help you later.

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you?

In the beginning, I had a hard time discovering what I was here to do. Being able to let go of all expectations was a struggle I dealt with.

Being a first-generation college student born to immigrant parents, I was always told that my parents migrated here with nothing to offer me everything. I felt that I owed it to them to do well and represent my culture well. As a Salvadorean-American, I've had to represent two flags, two cultures, and two languages. I had to find the balance between making my family proud and being self-fulfilled. When you find this balance, you are able to enjoy what you are doing while representing your roots. I now take pride in pursuing what I love to do.

Tell us about your proudest moment(s) at Ball State University.

Dr. Emily Rutter, associate dean of Honors College, nominated me to go to the Indiana Statehouse for Ball State Day at the Statehouse. That was really one of my highest moments here so far. I was able to represent the Honors College and talk to people at the Statehouse about the sort of things our Honors College does. Of all the students out there, I got nominated. That was such a rewarding moment for me.

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

Invest time in self-care. Just because you have free time does not mean you have to fill that time with other commitments. I should have relaxed a bit more and eased into things, especially with this big transition into college life. Overwhelming yourself with clubs, events, and meetings is not a good way to start your collegiate journey. Plan a little downtime for yourself every now and then—but stay on track with your class work and your activity commitments.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State, or who are in their first year at Ball State?

Find what you’re passionate about doing in life and why you are doing it. This is an important thing to do, especially for young, first-generation students like me. Find the reason why you drive yourself to be better. Once you find this, do not close the door behind you. Leave it open and take others with you. You may be the first in your family, but do not be the last. Find your why

Lilly WatermanLilly Waterman

Tell us about why you chose Ball State University.

I previously heard from current and former students that Ball State University was an amazing school. When I visited, I fell in love with the campus. Ball State is also the perfect distance for me to be independent, but not too far from home.

What were you the most nervous about in coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

I was most nervous about making sure I had everything ready and set up to go. I was scared I was missing information that I needed to go to college because I wasn’t with someone who knew what you needed to have. I decided to call and make appointments with people at Ball State prior to my arrival, and they were so helpful to ease my mind. Everyone at Ball State wants you to succeed.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

The ability to adapt and learn has been a strength of mine. Coming into college ready to learn is so critical. You’re learning from professionals and people who know more than you about particular topics. You have to adapt to those schedules and to the free time that you have. Your own success is in your hands. It’s not like high school where people will make you sit down and learn. You have to be there, adapt, and learn.

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you?

The most difficult part of college has been getting used to the workload. There’s a lot more work that needs to be put in than what was needed in high school. That can be very stressful at first, but as long as you adapt, you can make a schedule that works for you.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s at Ball State University.

Getting selected into a selective teacher’s scholar research group has been my proudest moment so far in my short time at Ball State. In high school, I was very nervous to put myself out there and try different things. I was proud of myself when I learned that I was accepted into this very fun experience and to get to work in that type of an environment.

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

I wish I would have known that you’re not alone. The first few weeks can be lonely, especially if you aren’t quick about making friends. Eventually, you’ll find people who are going through the same things as you and can make friends that way.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State University, or in their first year at Ball State?

My advice would be to put yourself out there and try new things. It can be really scary, but you’ll be happier knowing you have friends and someone to talk to before and after class. Joining a club, doing volunteer work, or joining a research group are great ways to do that. It’s just nice to meet people who are going through similar things as you.

Taylor Bias

Taylor BiasTell us about why you chose Ball State University.

I chose Ball State University because it provided me with the best opportunity to explore my interests while allowing me to stay within a good distance from my family.

What were you the most nervous about in coming to Ball State? How did you navigate those concerns?

I was most nervous about switching from the classes and study habits of high school to those of college. I received advice from those who had already navigated this change and I allowed myself some grace in the change of style. I felt that the transition was more manageable once I was in it rather than thinking and planning for it.

What are the qualities and experiences you brought with you to Ball State that have helped you succeed in college?

The number one quality necessary for college success is the ability to problem solve. Having this ability enables you to overcome any of the issues that college life might present and sets you up to excel in every aspect.

What has been the most difficult part of the college experience for you?

The most difficult part of college has been time management and organization. Keeping track of all the assignment deadlines as well as being prepared for class and exams can be a little overwhelming. It takes organizational skill and practice, but anyone can overcome this with some effort.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s at Ball State University.

My proudest moment at Ball State was presenting my first poster presentation for my research group. It was the first time I had something to show that was my own significant work. I was able to defend and explain the findings with what I had learned. It felt like everything I had learned in class and from my research lab were all coming together, and I was able to present on it and convey the findings to others.

Looking back, what is something you know now that you wish you had known during your first few weeks at Ball State as an incoming student?

I wish I could tell myself that getting used to the new surroundings, lessons, and activities simply takes time. There isn’t a quick way to be more comfortable and prepared, you simply have to allow yourself to embrace the change and take challenges and opportunities as they come. You eventually come to the realization that you've persevered and you are comfortable again.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend BSU or in their first year at Ball State?

My one piece of advice to new first-generation students is to remember that you are not alone and that you don’t have to go through this alone. Being first generation, this can feel like a huge change and like you have to figure it all out as soon as possible and you might forget that you can ask for help. There are others who have been there, there are people that can and want to help you navigate the change. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.


First-Generation Faculty and Staff Chronicles

Nikolas AtlasNickolas Atlas, Director of Student Services, College of Health

When in your life did obtaining a college education become a goal for you? Why was it so important?

In eighth grade, we went to Washington, D.C., for a school field trip, and I immediately knew it was where I belonged. I remember saying to myself, “I have to go to college here.” Both of my parents had always encouraged me to go to college, and it was never really a question of if I would go, but where. In high school, it clearly became my goal to get into a college in Washington, D.C., because that is where I wanted to live. It was important to me because I knew early on that I wanted to work in education, and a college degree was required. I was fortunate to have the full support of my parents and achieved my goal of being accepted into The Catholic University of America, and lived in D.C. for 14 years. A dream come true!

What were some of your biggest challenges as a first-generation student as you began your college career? How did you navigate those challenges?

The biggest challenges for me were that there were zero resources at my institution for first-generation students. I also couldn’t ask my parents for help because they had no knowledge of how higher education worked. I didn’t know what any office names were, like a “Provost” or “Registrar,” so I literally had to Google them. I also didn’t have a traditional academic advisor, but rather a faculty advisor who simply picked out my courses for the first year. Partially because it is my personality, but also because I think most first-generation students have this attitude, I took it upon myself to investigate A LOT. If no one was going to help me, I was going to find out everything on my own. I made sure to find the requirements for my degree, minors, general academic policies, etc. This isn’t to say I didn’t struggle. In fact, I struggled particularly with my academics in my first year, and I didn’t have anyone to advise me on how to study, or if I should retake a course. Most, if not all, of my friends were not first-generation students, and therefore, I felt I couldn’t lean on them for support. Despite being in my favorite city, I was also challenged by being so far away from home. I navigated all of these challenges by just pushing through and not giving up.

What were some qualities and experiences you brought with you to college to helped you succeed?

I can be a very stubborn and determined person. I could have easily dropped out of college because of the lack of support the university offered me. I was clearly floundering my first year. Would that happen in 2023? No. They’ve implemented a lot more resources since I was a student. I owe it to my parents for the continued support they gave me, in addition to my personal determination for not wanting to give up.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s as a college student.

It simply was graduating and knowing I did it essentially all on my own. I basically picked out all of the courses for my major and found a way to triple minor. I remember walking on the steps of our Basilica, shaking hands with our dean while holding my diploma and looking out into the crowd seeing my parents hold up a huge banner that read, “Congrats Nick Atlas, we love you!” That was my proudest moment as a college student.

What was your family’s reaction when you earned your first college degree?

Everyone was extremely proud, particularly my parents. Several family members, including my parents and grandmother, all traveled from Connecticut to attend the graduation ceremony.

Attending to the needs of first-generation students is a major point of emphasis at Ball State. What are some impactful ways you’ve seen this area addressed in your position on campus?

We have First-Generation Day on Nov. 8, where we recognize all of our first-generation college students at a reception. Several other offices and colleges also contribute with their own events. I think this is really wonderful because when a first-gen student sees a faculty or staff member and other students who share this identity, they become part of this special community. Recognizing and celebrating are extremely important!

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State, or in their first year at the University?

Identify the support services that your university provides. If you find they are lacking in any areas, don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research. Ask for clarification on things. Be your own advocate if you need to! Fortunately, Ball State does a wonderful job supporting our first-generation students!

First-GenEration Faculty and Staff

Adam BeachDr. Adam Beach, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of English, College of Sciences and Humanities

When in your life did obtaining a college education become a goal for you? Why was it so important?

My father worked in the skilled trades in a Buick plant in Flint, Mich., where I grew up, and he always emphasized to me the importance of going to college. My parents wanted me to have other career opportunities besides the auto factories in our hometown.

What were some of your biggest challenges as a first-generation student as you began your college career? How did you navigate those challenges?

I was lucky to grow up in a house with readers (my mom and grandmother always had a book in their hands) and an emphasis on hard work and attaining higher education. However, my family wasn’t always thrilled to learn about the ideas I was exploring in my classes, even though they always supported me and were super proud of me as I went through school and eventually obtained my Ph.D. If you are having difficulty translating what you are learning in college to your family members who did not go to college, I think this is normal. I had to navigate and code-switch a lot, and ended up not talking a whole lot about my studies when I was at home.

What were some qualities and experiences you brought with you to college to help you succeed?

My family always emphasized hard work, and my father worked long hours without complaint. I think I brought that hard-working, blue-collar mentality to my academic work and would stick with difficult assignments and classes even when I did not feel like working or wanted to give up. If my dad never complained about doing hard physical labor in a plant, then I decided I would not allow myself to slack off in my own academic work. Thankfully, I was able to become very successful in college, and much of that was due to the hard-working habits instilled in me by my family.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s as a college student.

I played baseball for all four years at Adrian College and managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. I am most proud of those two achievements and the way I was able to balance these different parts of the college experience. In my junior year, I also met my wife, Lynnette, and we have been married for almost 28 years. I will always be grateful to Adrian College as the place where I met the love of my life.

What was your family’s reaction when you earned your first college degree?

They were thrilled, and they also were especially excited that I decided to go on and get my master’s degree (and eventually my doctorate). I could not have made it through all of my schooling without the support of my family! They thought it was pretty cool to have a “doctor” in the family, even if I wasn’t one of the medical docs.

Attending to the needs of first-generation students is a major point of emphasis at Ball State. What are some impactful ways you’ve seen this area addressed in your position on campus?

I am really proud of the Graduate School’s administration of The Pathways Project, which offers mentoring, programming, and community to first-generation college and graduate students. If you are a first-generation student and need support, you should check out Pathways and see if the program might be just what you need!

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State, or in their first year at the University?

I grew up in a very tight-knit family and community, and, in many ways, it was difficult for me to leave and go away to school. I remember that, after the first year at Adrian, I wanted to come back home and go to school in Flint. My parents really encouraged me to go back for my sophomore year and to give it more time, and that really did the trick. I think it can be hard to take on new opportunities in new places when nobody in your family has done something similar and cannot help guide you in making the transitions. My advice would be to stick with it when times are tough, especially if you are feeling homesick. I am so glad that I continued with my studies and learned how to be independent. It has made all the difference in my life

Treon McClendonTréon McClendon, Director of Student Success, College of Communication, Information and Media

When in your life did obtaining a college education become a goal for you? Why was it so important?

In light of my life experiences, I opted to seek a college education during my senior year of high school. I knew it could improve my life and social capital, so I knew I wanted to take this leap next in my life. Furthermore, because I did not apply to college until the second semester of my senior year, I missed every deadline, and lucked out after being a Lilly recipient, so the sky was the limit from there. This was about to be a game changer for my family, community, and everyone else I touched. This was the life adjustment I needed to persevere and become the best version of myself.

What were some of your biggest challenges as a first-generation student as you began your college career? How did you navigate those challenges?

As a first-generation student, some of my most difficult hurdles were overcoming financial worries, support, imposter syndrome, and family buy-in. I suffered a lot from this during my first year of college because I knew nothing about college and had no one to lean on. It was not until I decided to get active on campus with New Student Orientation and the Groups Scholars program that I realized what I was interested in and why I was going to college in the first place. This is also where I found my support system and connections, which have been crucial for my success and purpose in assisting others. This is how I navigated these difficulties.

What were some qualities and experiences you brought with you to college to help you succeed?

For as long as I can remember, I have been a creative visionary. For myself, I would say that I brought to college my confidence, open-mindedness, very confident, goal-driven, relational, and tenacity, which set me up for success in anything I set my mind to. My college experience has made me a better person.

Tell us about your proudest moment/s as a college student.

My proudest moment as a college student was graduating and watching my late grandmother from the crowd as I delivered the graduation address. I knew I had made my grandmother and family proud because my grandmother's education did not extend beyond the sixth grade. This was one of my happiest moments throughout my undergraduate career.

What was your family’s reaction when you earned your first college degree?

My family was overcome with emotion. They had no idea what to expect and were simply delighted that I had reached such a significant milestone in my life. I recall my mother yelling and screaming with joy because I had defied the odds and paved the road for many others to follow in my footsteps. My family was supportive and welcomed this new chapter in our lives.

Attending to the needs of first-generation students is a major point of emphasis at Ball State. What are some impactful ways you’ve seen this area addressed in your position on campus?

CCIM's leadership is dedicated to student success, which is critical for assisting first-generation students in flying beyond uncertainty. Our dean is deeply devoted to empowering our students' achievement and working to remove any impediments to reducing the opportunity gap, which helps me in executing in supporting students in my current role. I am new to the University, so seeing it happening in our work to promote our students' holistic success has been motivating. My work as director of student success contains all of the characteristics required to assist first-generation students in succeeding, fostering a sense of belonging that ties our students to the University, and engages them in immersive learning.

What is one piece of advice you would share with first-generation students preparing to attend Ball State, or in their first year at the University?

To imagine and never stop dreaming. If your dreams do not frighten you, you are not dreaming big enough. Never accept no for an answer since you can achieve anything you set your mind to, so prepare and write out your goals. You have a place here and will succeed! Nothing worthwhile in life comes easily. You belong!!