Madeline L. (Boenker) Short – ACO Communications and Vendor Relationships, Manager
1. Why did you decide to attend college?
It was the “logical next step” because I greatly enjoyed school, was not ready to join the workforce, and was ready for self-exploration! My parents always emphasized that “a college degree would get your foot in the door – you’d have to work less to earn more.” So, off I went…even though A&M rejected me the first time around. I eventually got in after a few semesters at a junior college.
2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome them?
One of my largest challenges was the feeling that my parents didn’t understand the various stressors and pressures that I felt on any given day (most of which were internal). Looking back, I didn’t give them enough credit – the workforce is WAY harder than college. My challenges were related to time-management, setting realistic expectations for performance, and managing multiple competing priorities. I always found mentors (older college students) who could help pat me on the back and calm my nerves. I liked the wisdom provided by my experienced pals. But mostly, I just did the best I could to independently overcome any challenges. For instance, I would read extra chapters if my dyslexia was slowing me down in preparation for the following week.
I was very fortunate that my folks paid for my undergraduate degree and gave me time to focus solely on my college career. All in all, my challenges were more emotional and intellectual than financial.
3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?
There have been multiple “payoffs”. First, I met my husband and the most amazing group of lifelong friends. Second, I read more books, wrote more papers, and survived more late nights than I thought was humanly possible. This gave me a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence which has in turn greatly helped me to establish a professional persona in the workforce. Third, I made many connections through professional organizations (NCA) and through taking on additional responsibilities while in college (e.g. serving as a research assistant, working part-time) that have helped me find employment. Fourth, I have letters behind my name and I am an Aggie (which has also helped me land positions). Fifth, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses (college gave me a dose of reality – I’m not perfect – there is always someone smarter or better) without having to publicly fail like I would have in the workforce. Sixth, I learned to work with other people even though many times I didn’t want to put faith in their ability.
4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be and why?
Honestly, my college experience was ideal. If I HAD to change something, I would have taken a few more business classes or even minored in business. This is not because it’s an interest of mine, but my current and previous employers have really favored or given more opportunities to folks with business experience and/or degrees.
5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what would it be?
Since I’m the experienced college student now, I guess I have to pass along my wisdom. So here it goes:
1. Go to college even if you think it’s not right for you. At least give it a shot because I bet there will be one class or one teacher who can really make it click for you.
2. Don’t be afraid to start at a junior college. It doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of a fancy degree. Junior colleges actually allow you to accrue less debt and slowly acclimate to all the pressures the college world has to offer.
3. Have fun and meet people. College is just as much about learning to interact with your peers as it is about burying your nose in books. It’s okay to occasionally compromise a study night to bond with your colleagues. And, enjoy the slow pace of the college world – you really get to spend more time doing what you want than in any other time in your life.
4. Get a part-time job or internship. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. You have to develop skills while in college and illustrate those in a tangible way. Writing papers (unless you stay in the academy) won’t get you job interviews, you have to show that you can work in your field of interest and made the extra effort to do so. Also, this is how you meet incredibly influential mentors who you will later ask for multiple recommendations.
5. Your parents, your dog, your roommate, the random person on the street corner don’t have to “get it”, and even if they do, you won’t think they can. Stop trying to make people in your life understand how stressed or insane you feel while in college. They are just happy that you are experiencing something spectacular! And people in the workforce don’t feel bad for you – rather, they are jealous (I wish I had a Spring Break)!
6. Get to know your professors. Try to spend time getting to know professors in your particular field of interest. They are thrilled to have an excited student! Offer to help on their research projects or just ask them questions about interesting things you’ve read for their class. The professional relationships you build with your professors will come in handy when trying to enter the workforce. They will be the individuals who can attest to your work ethic and dedication, and will be the folks you rely on as references.
Madeline certainly gave us a lot to think about! What did you take away from the article? Comment below.