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Featured Purdue Engineering Alumni Who Are First Generation College Graduates


Lauren Bakalyar

Always be willing to do THE WORK. In every job, no matter how glamorous sounding, there are some aspects that are not glamorous: tedious spreadsheets, long hours, learning details about complex systems, and tough conversations. The thing that will set you apart is when you are the one who steps up to do the work. Managers and leaders want those on their teams willing to do the work to propel the business forward, not just maintain the status quo. When you step up to do the work, you identify yourself as being the one who can be counted on, who produces, who follows through, and who the company values and cannot live without. When you do your first job well, the others will follow. Focus on the work in front of you, and the promotions, leadership positions, and fancy titles will follow. ~ Lauren Bakalyar (BSIE, 2005)

Jen Jewers Bowlin

Get to know your professors. Ask questions and be attentive in class, show up to office hours, and say “hi” when you see them around campus. They want you to succeed and having a relationship with them is invaluable. They will provide letters of recommendation, class and career counseling, give advice, and more. I still check in with a couple of my favorite professors just to say “hi”, see how life is going for them, see if they have any students they’d recommend to fill new grad or intern openings at my employer, and swap kid news. ~ Jen Jewers Bowlin, P.E (MSME, 2004)

Emma Brace

To First-Generation students: Learn to advocate for yourself! Identify your needs and tap into your network of friends, professors, and other support staff to help you get your needs met, whether it's help filling out the FAFSA, finding a tutor, and more. Never be afraid to ask for help and ask for what you need, and identify friends and mentors who you feel comfortable talking to! ~ Dr. Emma Brace (PhD (ABE), 2019; MS-ABE, 2016)

Kelly Hornsby-Clawson

Do you ever feel like you can't possibly belong in the engineering program, or in a particular class, or responsible for a job or task someone hires you for...and that at any point, someone is going to figure out what a fraud you really are and boot you out? Trust me, they are NOT going to do that, because you belong! Imposter Syndrome is real, but it doesn't need to hold you back. You and your uniqueness have earned you your spot in the program, your seat at the table, and your voice in the room - use them fearlessly and be bravely you! ~ Kelly Hornsby-Clawson (BSChE, 1997)

Jamie Johnson

My advice is to take pride in what you have already accomplished as a current or future First-Generation student. The adversity you have overcome just by applying to college will arm you with an inherent work ethic that if cultivated properly, will lead to exceptional opportunity. Follow the doors that open. And always trust your gut, as a First-Generation student you will find it to be your guiding light. ~ Jamie (Spaccarotelli) Johnson, PE, LEED AP (BSCE, 2005)

Ying Chen Lou

1) Don't be afraid of trying and failures; keep going 2) Be confident and speak up 3) Work hard and work smart. ~ Dr. Ying Chen Lou (PhD (EE), 2010)

Ashley Noel Suarez

First of all, congratulations on making the decision to attend college! Being a First-Generation college student may come with many unknowns and/or pressures of being the first in your family to take on this challenge. My advice is to build your network and support system. My family continued to be my cheerleaders, but I also was able to meet so many great people along the way who helped me meet my goals. You got this! ~ Ashley Noel Suarez (Vacchiano) (BSCE, 2011)

Adriana Porter

To First-Generation students, don’t be discouraged by your peers who can spout off all the degrees and places their family members have been. It’s not about anyone but YOU. When you get into industry or the research world, your peers there will be looking at how you interact with them and adapt to situations. Use the skills you learned about dealing with those who had a different upbringing than you to help influence how you can excel in your post-Purdue life. ~ Adriana Porter (BSCE, 2011)

Dana Tiller

With all that you do, be honest and kind, and you will do great things. ~ Dana Tiller (BSIE, 1993)

Featured Purdue Engineering Faculty and Staff Who Are First Generation College Graduates


Kelly-Andronicos

Nothing takes the place of persistence. ~ Kelly Andronicos

Be guided by your role models, but remember that you have your own talents, special qualities, and unique gifts to give to the world. ~ Christine Babick

To those who teach first generation students - respect their insecurities by teaching them to respect their capabilities. ~ Sue Bayley

Work hard to strike a balance between (a) your independence and striving to do things on your own, by your own hard work and dedication, and (b) the availability of all manner of support resources on campus. ~ Ed Berger

Always push yourself father than you think you can go and never give up. Trust your instincts and be yourself. ~ Carol Brock

Reflect on your university experience early and often. Find gaps/pain points, and then find people who can help provide direction. There are so many resources at a university that will be unknown to you that can help you maximize your potential. ~ Patrick Brunese

After you’ve spent some time in academia, it’s hard to remember that most people don’t know what academia really is about, especially grad school. It’s a different world, and 1st gen folks are explorers. Don’t expect others to always understand your path, but also don’t assume that difficulties or roadblocks mean that you shouldn’t be on that path or that the difficulties are necessarily directed ‘at’ you. ~ Barrett Caldwell

Don’t worry if you’re uncertain about which engineering discipline is right for you. First Year Engineering and career advising available in the college and on campus can help you figure it out. ~ Marsha Freeland

My advice for any 1st Gen Student is to believe in yourself. You would not have been admitted into Purdue unless you already have the skills and abilities to succeed. You can do this! Remember that though they may not know how to express; your family is very proud of you for taking this step to pursue a college degree. ~ Amy Glenn

It takes hard work to get this far, but remember to take a break and have fun. Often the moments of downtime prepare you for life more than the fleeting moments in the classroom. ~ Elizabeth Gray

Successes and failures are just feedback on a process. If you see them both as opportunities to learn more about yourself, how you do your work, and what affects outcomes, you will learn what you need to accomplish what you want. ~ Beth Holloway

Seek out opportunities to explore your major beyond the traditional courses, find things you love, and make them a part of your experience at Purdue, your sense of who you are, and your life. ~ Leah Jamieson

Get involved and connected! I attribute much of my success in higher education to being active in multiple student organizations, and developing a strong network of friends and peers who support one another personally and academically. ~ Brent K. Jesiek

Study hard and ask for help when you need it. ~ Martin Jischke

Throughout college, I always had a sense that I had to work harder than my peers to stay ahead - studying harder to grasp the concepts, working a 20+ hour part-time job to help pay for college, etc. These experiences helped me get where I am today and are still a source of great pride for me. It wasn’t until I sought to develop relationships, especially with my professors, did I receive the support and most importantly the encouragement, that I needed to take the next steps in my career development. ~ Tamara Kinzer-Ursem

Ideally, 1st gen status has little or no effect on you, because it’s never been made a big deal by anyone. But it often does affect your motivation (why you want to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish), in that you often are motivated to achieve what you think others want you to achieve, and that can different than that which you want to accomplish. Be led by internal motivation and not by such external motivation. ~ Steven J. Landry

Apply for any and all scholarships you find, no matter how big or small or what the requirements are. Don't be afraid to try something new that might be interesting to you. The first job doesn't have to be the last! Get your foot in a door and then move and shift as necessary until you find the job that really makes you happy. ~ Amanda Limiac

Building a support system on campus made a difference in my success. Finding fellow students and advisors with common interests, and developing a strong rapport with them, will likely be very helpful to you as well. Also, when professors announce office hours, they really do mean it and want to know you and be helpful. Plan to drop by and see them. ~ Tim Luzader

Being a 1 gen student is something to be proud of. You are paving the way for your future children and grandchildren. Not only does it make your parents proud, it should make you proud, too. It is no easy feat and it doesn’t matter what you are majoring in. It can be stressful at times (especially since your parents never went through it), but look around and you will find there are a lot of 1st gen students going through the same thing. Talk to them if you have questions or doubts during your college career. ~ Stephanie McKinley

To first-gen students: Be proud of your story and the path you took to get here. Stay connected to your family and friends at home, but build your support network at college too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, many have been in your shoes and are willing to help. ~ Sara Winnike McMillan

Find helpful professors and staff and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Universities seem like big places, but there are smaller communities to there. Find them and join in! Clubs, student organization, and departmental organizations are great places to find friends and mentors. ~ Nathan Mosier

With every milestone you achieve, you're laying a foundation that unborn generations will build upon. Make it a good one. ~ Moses Olayemi

There will be days that you will doubt your suitability to be here and will wonder if it would be better, safer, easier to just follow the same path as everyone you know. Know you are not alone in having that thought. Yet dig deep and press through the tough days, as each one serves as an example of your fitness and is paving a new beautiful road for others behind you to follow. You are not only changing the trajectory of your life with each passing day, but you are changing the trajectory of their dreams. ~ Mary Pilotte

Don’t be discouraged by holes in your preparation. Everybody has them. Remember that these holes can be filled. Your ability got you where you are and you have a unique perspective that others may lack. Use this to your advantage and never give up. ~ Tim Rogers

Make sure to utilize the wealth or resources available to you at Purdue University. They will be of great benefit to you as you navigate potentially unfamiliar territory in classes, experiential opportunities, scholarships and funding, careers, etc. ~ Tammy Siemers

Growing up it was not expected that any of us (my siblings or cousins maternal or paternal) would attend college, it was never even an option that we discussed. Jumping forward to my children it was an expectation after high school and is already being talked about by my children with my grandchildren. I know that higher education is not suitable for all children but there should be an option which I hope is a lasting legacy to my family. ~ Amy Stanley

It is important to make sure to find mentors outside one’s family who can give you a broader perspective about what is possible. Find a variety of mentors to guide you. ~ Ruth Streveler

Do not underestimate what you can accomplish through hard work and your ability. ~ John Sutherland

Make the most of your college experience by finding a faculty mentor who can guide you - we professors love to chat with students! ~ Hong Z. Tan

Never give up on the challenge of getting a degree. I was out of High School for 7 years when I started my degree, but I got it done in less than 3 years. ~ Kerry Ticen

I met my first engineer when I was 17 and she told me about the projects she worked on as a Civil Engineer. This really encouraged me to think about doing something besides what I was likely going to keep doing- water softener repair and plumbing. When I was applying to the University of Michigan, my family doctor helped me better understand the questions and went over my application before submitting. These small, seemingly inconsequential acts made a big difference and helped me to get on a different track. I also relied on them at points of crisis in undergrad. Continue to be plugged in to those with less exposure, with less access. Stay focused and lean on your community when in need. Enjoy being a first generation college student and eventual graduate. Be proud of that fact and accomplishment. ~ David Umulis

If you work hard and you do not give up, you will achieve your career goal. It is in your hands! Every time that someone told you or suggest that you will not be able to do that… use these words as fuel, and show everyone that that person was completely wrong. I know it is not easy, but believe me, when you get your goal, you will enjoy it even more! Work hard, never give up - and Boiler Up! ~ Mirian Velay-Lizancos

As you start on your educational journey, make a conscious effort to be a lifelong learner. Use every opportunity and interaction to learn something new. ~ Jill Wable

2016 National Teacher of the Year Johana Hayes said, "Your journey is not determined by where you begin. You may have to do things differently, but you absolutely can do everything you ever wanted to do." Though Hayes was quoted well after I pursued my degrees and career in communications, I found that she perfectly defined my courage to take that first small step. (In fact, I put it on my cap as I received my master’s degree in 2016!) I hope it inspires you as well and gives you the reassurance to begin your own amazing journey. ~ Teresa Walker