Last Friday, Jhoanna Vega-Rocha, assistant director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), interviewed Bradley president Stephen Standifird on his experiences as a first-generation college student.
The 20-minute interview was aired on the Garrett Center’s YouTube channel, continuing the semester’s recognition of Bradley’s first-generation students and leading up to National First Generation Day, which was Nov. 8.
As the first in his family to attend college, let alone obtain a master’s degree and doctorate, Standifird had a decorated past of lessons to draw on.
In speaking about his academic journey, he opened up on his college hardships, namely financial concerns, trouble forming good study habits and finding a reliable community, as his family was uninitiated in the college lifestyle.
Standifird tied his experiences into his current work through an essential reading from his formative years–Bill George’s “True North,” a business book about the driving forces of life. He found the opportunities of his college tenure to be the impetus for his “true north:” building institutions that create opportunities for others.
“There’s obviously aspects of the job I’m not thrilled about, but most days I absolutely love what I do because I know … we’re building an institution that builds human potential … and that comes from my first-generation college experience,” Standifird said.
Standifird concluded with a word of advice to students to persevere through times of doubt with help from colleagues and friends.
“If it’s anything like the experience I went through, it will have a transformational impact on your life,” Standifird said.
According to Vega-Rocha, the interview was a part of a shift to virtual programming that the ODI prepared from the start of the semester. She coordinated the semester’s activities, including a virtual first-generation mixer and an alumni panel.
She also oversaw the three-day period of highlighting first-generation Braves that ended with the interview. It consisted of sharing submitted stories and testimonies to the ODI’s Instagram.
“We opted to not hold a virtual program for national first-gen college student day, but we still wanted to recognize students, faculty and alumni,” Vega-Rocha said in an email interview.
Admission counselor Thalia Novoa was among the submissions with the messages she took away from her experience: working hard can get a degree and validate the work of the ones who came before.
“All of the representation of first-generation staff and faculty [makes] it easier for students to create a dialogue and ask for help and also know that they can do anything,” Novoa said in an email interview.
Looking forward, Vega-Rocha saw a vital takeaway from her interview with Standifird.
“To see how far he has come and now holds a position as a university president is really inspiring,” Vega-Rocha said. “It serves as a reminder that [regardless] of your obstacles as a first-gen student, your experience prepares you to achieve your wildest dreams.”