Category Archives: Features

Friday Feature: Al Tomlinson III

Al Tomlinson IIIAssistant Director of Corporate Development  

DegreeBS, Sport Management (2010, Bowling Green State University); Master of Business Administration (2014, University of Dayton) 

1. Why did you decide to attend college?

Attending college had always been an aspiration of mine. I understood that a college degree would enable a better future for me and my family therefore it was deemed essential for my success in life. I chose BGSU because they gave me an opportunity to play football, and they provided me with free tuition.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome them?

 I wasn’t necessarily a first-gen college student; my mother earned her college degree. However, I was the first male to graduate from college in my family. Some of my challenges were adjusting to the freedom, managing time, and better understanding financial literacy. 

Freedom meant I was free to make my own decisions.  

I often made decisions that weren’t the best for me or my academics. This led to poor time management. 

Also…I often blew through “free money” very fast, leaving me to depend on others’ support for extended periods. 

3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?

The biggest benefit was the development of my social skills. This combined with the degree requirements for select jobs made me feel that college was absolutely necessary.

4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be and why?

I would have sought more internship experiences and taken advantage of the resources that were offered. Also, I would have studied abroad. In today’s world, experience trumps education. Taking advantage of the internship opportunities and the inherited resources, I would have been better prepared and qualified for my career. 

I really wish I would have studied abroad for a semester or a six-week period. I’ve always wanted to visit a different country and immerse myself in a different culture. There was no better time than in college. 

5. What was it like being a student-athlete? 

Being a student-athlete was very much like being in a fraternity and working for a company. Sport is very emotional and the only people that understand and can relate to your personal situations are the ones that experience it with you. This develops a bond that is unwavering and memories that will last a lifetime. However, everyone has a role and there are bosses (position coaches) and executives (head coach, athletic director) that dictate your life.

6. What was a typical day like for you?

In-season, there was, 6:00a or 7:15a weight-lifting, class from 9:15-2pm, film and practice from 2:30-5:30pm, and a class at 6pm

In the off-season, there were 6:00a – 8:00a team workouts, class from 11-3pm, study table from 3-4:30, and 6pm class. Then, we had free time.  

7.  How did you keep education a top priority for you?

realized that I was compromising my future for something I was only going to play for one, maybe two more years and that didn’t sit well with me. For students that were below a certain threshold, academic services made sure education was their top priority.

…a 2.3 didn’t meet my academic standards, and it was time to make academics my main priority. After stepping away from football, I made the Dean’d List for each semester afterwards, and finished with a 3.4 GPA. 

8. What were some high points of being a student/athlete?

Making the trip! As an undersized athlete that takes a redshirt, the first goal I had was to “make the trip,” and travel with the team. I was able to accomplish that and play every game in the season. For some, that is no huge feat;  but for me, it was a high point. Other high points include defeating Minnesota, Toledo, Pittsburgh, and earning a letter and a bowl ring. 

9. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students/athletes, what would it be?

Surround yourself with the right people. Those that understand what is important,

…seriously, I would say start strong; it’s so much harder to catch up. Also, take advantage of your resources and find something new that you enjoy outside of your sport and pursue it as well. 

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Friday’s Feature: Angel Davison

Angel Davison, Café assistant/Caterer


Associate’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management (Ashworth Community College); Business Degree in Food Service Gourmet and Catering; currently working on Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management (Art Institute) 

1. Why did you decide to attend college?

I wanted to set a good example for my children, and to further my education in a field that I have a passion for.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I faced was balancing school, work, being a single mother, and having a social life – all with no support system. I overcame this challenge by cutting out distractions and prioritizing my daily schedule better.


3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?

Completing college assisted me with finding a better paying job with benefits… My tuition is paid through my retirement benefits so I’m not in debt with college loans.


4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be and why? 

I think I would change the age I decided to start college. It should have been a decision I made fresh out of high school [versus] being 28 with a family and other distractions.


5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what would you say? 

As an adult, it’s easy to get distracted from your goals and responsibilities when you don’t have your parents to constantly guide you on the right path. I found it helpful to associate myself with people/friends that have the same ambition and goals as I do. When you do this, you become each others support team and the “college life” doesn’t seem that hard. If your group of friends are all about clubbing and the social scene before studying and doing their homework, that’s not the crowd for you (unless you can multi-task very well.) A committed relationship, marriage, pregnancy, alcohol, drugs, and sometimes even a part-time job are all distractions from accomplishing your goal of earning good grades and graduating. 

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Friday’s Feature: Ronnie E. Hampston, Jr.

Current Position(s): K-5 School Service Worker and Adjunct Professor

Degrees: University of Cincinnati, B.S. in Criminal Justice/Organizational Leadership; University of Phoenix, M.S. in Administration in Criminal Justice

1. Why did you decide to attend college? I always felt that it was expected of me. Also, it was something that my parents nor grandparents did, so I wanted to…dedicate it to them.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome them?
I faced several challenges in school, from academic issues, to problems with financial aid, [and] problems with time management. I overcame them by just working hard and seeking help from advisors, tutors, or whoever was willing to help. Two of the biggest challenges that are not often spoken about are time management and accountability. In college, you don’t have an adult telling you what to do; and when you get accustomed to that type of freedom, it can cause you to be lazy. I had many sink or swim moments, but I was fortunate to make it out of school successfully.

3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?
Meeting my wife. Meeting lifelong friends. Obtaining degrees that will allow me to advance in my field.

4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be
and why?

I would have not taken out as many loans. I also would have considered going to a community college to start off in order to save money. Also, I should have been more involved on campus.

5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what
would it be?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use the resources that are available to you. Try to get a paid internship every summer. Only take out loans when you absolutely NEED them. Research scholarship opportunities because there are so many out there.

Party hard, but study even harder.

I can’t help but notice the themes about time management and asking for help. College is a new to Gen1s and we tend to not know how to manage the two. But, like Ronnie suggests, once you learn how to handle time and ask for help, you can really turn things around for the good!

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Friday’s Feature: Cathy Cordova


Cathy Cordova, Business Administrator I (Texas A&M University), Junior majoring in History with a minor in Sociology (Sam Houston State University)

After exiting high school in the 10th grade and later earning her GED, Cathy focused on raising her children and working. Below, she tells Gen1Grad why she decided to go back and how she is making it work.

What made you go back to school now? Working at a place of Higher Education (here at TAMU) resurfaced the need to further my education. Having a supervisor that related to my situation, and encouraging me to go back to school.

What have been some challenges in going back to school? Time management is the biggest challenge. I returned with three small children, ranging from toddler to early elementary. Trying to balance full time employment, parenting responsibilities and school work is difficult. My grades are not what they could or should be but parenting responsibilities and work take priority.

What have been some of the highlights of going back? Learning. I enjoy Sociology the most, and love learning new ways of thinking about society or cultures. I like sharing some of what I am studying with my family.

Why was it so important for you to go back to school? It was so important because higher education was never really important or achievable to anyone in my family. 1 of 6 kids, and NONE of us graduated from high school, neither did our parents. You go to school until you can legally quit, then you get a job. That was the expectation and very common among Hispanic, low income families.

What advice would you give to someone else he was going back to school a little later in life? I would advise them to really invest in a time management tool, whether it be electronic or hard copy like a planner. Plan ahead as much as you can and prepare for life’s interruption because they happen frequently. Make the decision to not stop, no matter what comes your way. Take advantage of the student resources offered at school, like advising, counseling, and meeting with professors if you find yourself struggling in a class.

Is there anything you would like to add? I’m currently a Junior, just taking 6 hours a semester but, the older the kids have gotten, the harder it seems to devote time to school work. It really is difficult but they know how important it is to me and just including them by opening discussion at home when it’s affecting my grades seems to help. They become more aware of my “study time” and seem to be more helpful around the house during finals.

Wow! Great job Cathy. We are rooting for you and wish you nothing but success. You are an inspiration to people who are contemplating going back to school.


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Our Friday Feature

Keinda West,
Litigation Paralegal

BA Sociology-Criminology (2006, Ohio University) and an ABA approved Paralegal Certificate (2014, Long Island University – Brooklyn)

1. Why did you decide to attend college?

College was always something that was expected of me, but I went because I knew it was the next step in life. At the time I wanted to become a forensic scientist. That just was not going to happen without a college degree.

2. What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student, and how did
you overcome them?

I had a lot of fear because I have older siblings and I watched two of them attend college, but not finish. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t finish as well. As expected, after my first year, I was on academic probation with a 1.7 GPA. The classes weren’t actually hard, I was just overwhelmed, depressed, and couldn’t find my footing. I didn’t turn things around until I realized that I wasn’t in this by myself and swallowed my pride to ask for help. In my sophomore year I talked with academic advisors, my profs, even my RA. All were glad to assist me with resources on campus. I also had to take my mind off who I didn’t want to become, a college failure, and focus on who I was striving to be, a college graduate.

3. What have been some of the payoffs for attending college?

Outside of earning credentials for the job market and a lifetime network, my whole worldview changed from attending college. I learned there was so much more in the world than the environment in which I grew up. Most important, I learned who I was. It’s where I developed my inner strength! One doesn’t necessarily have to attend college for those things, but that’s where I made my discoveries.

4. If you could go back in time and change anything about your college career, what would it be
and why?

I would have used my scholarship to attend a local community college for free! I chose not to attend because the school didn’t offer my major. However, I realized later that I could have used those two years to take my general education requirements and transferred to a 4-year school with my major to complete my degree…with less debt!

5. If you could give any advice to current and/or future first-generation college students, what
would it be?

Don’t borrow more money than you need. I didn’t discover that I could decline a portion of my loans until my senior year. The damage was already done. Each quarter I would receive and overage check of about $1500. Sure I used maybe $500-$700 of that for books, but the rest of that was not the free money I naively thought it to be. Of course, I knew I would have to pay it back, but who’s thinking that far in advance? So don’t spend all of your salary before you get the job you’ve been studying so hard for! Student loan payments are very real and all the hell that everyone says they are.

Additional info:
Since graduating in 2006, my mom has completed an associate degree in business administration and two of my older sisters have gone back to school and completed bachelor degrees in healthcare administration and electrical engineering. It’s truly been a blessing to watch them succeed as well.


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Friday Feature

Madeline L. (Boenker) Short – ACO Communications and Vendor Relationships, Manager

BA in Communication, Texas A&M University, ’09 (specialty: Speech Communication);
MA in Communication, Texas A&M University, ’11 (specialty: Health Communication/Media Campaigns)

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.

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