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SCU First Gen Staff/Faculty Profiles

Jessica Johns
Associate Director of Student Advocacy, LEAD Scholars Program
Where did you attend college?

California Lutheran University

What was your college experience like as a first-generation college student?

As with most student, I had experiences that were both positive and areas I struggled. As I reflect on my time at college, my overall experience was positive and I had the opportunity to create lifelong friends, explore academics and develop skills for my career.

Positive experiences include having a really great and supportive roommate and developing friendships within my first year. I also had great experiences with activities I was involved in and leadership roles I pursued. Also, I was very fortunate to have a supportive mom, who, although didn't attend college herself, provide me support throughout my academic career. Finally, I have always loved learning new ideas and college gave me the opportunity to delve further into subjects that I loved!

Some of the more challenging aspects were definitely around finances, academics and experiencing imposter syndrome. I worked all throughout college including work study, part-time serving jobs, babysitting for my professors, and internships. It was challenging to have to miss out on events and activities my friends were doing because I needed to work. I made some great friends at my jobs so it made going to work fun for the most part! Also, the first couple years of college, I struggled to adjust to the academic process. For example, I didn't fully understand the sequence in which I needed to take classes so I was behind on credits and my requirements to graduate. I took a little long to reach out for help and by that time, I needed to take the maximum amount of credits allowed at the university and take 2 additional courses at a community college just to graduate on time. Finally, imposter syndrome - it is so real! I definitely found myself comparing my experience to those around me - growing up lower SES, having a car that was 15 years old, and having to work while others didn't. One can really start to feel like you don't belong. It really helped that I had staff and faculty mentors who believed in me and encouraged me - allowing me to believe in myself.

What message do you have to share with current first-generation college students?

It is okay to ask for help and seek support! As a student I sometimes felt, that if I reached out for help, people might think I didn't belong or couldn't keep up. That was often not the case; many staff and faculty really supported my academic career when I reached out. Also, take the opportunity to experience something new - study aboard, take that leadership role, mentor others, etc! Looking back, I missed out on some experiences, such as study aboard, because I didn't know the process and didn't ask. As humans, it is okay if we don't have all the answers and even more okay to seek those who do have the answers!