Dalton State Celebrates First-Generation Students


It’s about fulfilling a dream. Or seizing an opportunity.

For some it’s about finishing a goal, achieving a successful career.

Dalton State recently celebrated all the first-generation college students, as well as members of the faculty and staff who were the first in their family to graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree. Fifty-one percent of the student population identifies as a first-generation college student.

Members of Roadrunner Nation signed a banner encouraging and support each other and shared their personal testimonies during the celebration.

“Being a first-generation graduate is the fulfillment of a dream I had for a long time,” said Jerry Drye, an associate professor of communication.

Twenty-six years passed between his first college course and the day he received his diploma, and he often uses his story to encourage students to never give up and that it’s never too late.

“One of the things about graduating college is that you can say, ‘I accomplished something,’” he said. “It’s a great feeling of achievement. For some of us, it takes a little longer. Life gets in the way. And many first-generation students don’t do it in the conventional way. But no matter how you do it, the achievement of that goal is important.”

For Jaclyn Sanchez, a pre-nursing major, being a first-generation college student is important because so many of her family members didn’t complete high school.

“So graduating college is a big thing in my family,” she said. “There are a lot of dropouts, and I hope seeing me succeed is motivating my younger sister. I want to show my family what I can do and show my sister it’s important to get an education. I would like to have a professional job that I love. Nothing should hold someone back from attending college.”

When Daniela Cortes’ family came to America, they were too focused on providing for their family to pursue education, she said.

“For me, being first generation is about accomplishing what my parents were never able to accomplish,” said Cortes, a history major. “I want to aim higher than finishing high school. I could have started working right away, but I knew I wanted something more.”

“Being a first-generation college student means I’m striving for a better future,” said Scott Beck, a psychology major.

“Going to college is about the pursuit of wanting to know more,” Beck said. “Knowledge is what propels me.”

First-generation students don’t always have that same level of family support that other students have. Dalton State provides many resources to help students succeed.

“At Dalton State, a little more than half of our student population consistently self-identify as first-generation college students,” said Dr. Jodi Johnson, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “Given our role as an access member institution in the University System of Georgia, we provide an opportunity for students to attend an outstanding college locally and at a reasonable cost. “In order to support our students, we provide a wide variety of academic support services including tutoring, supplemental instruction, personal counseling, career services, a food pantry, and a student health center. These resources aid students in their academic careers and increase their chances of graduating.”

“Being first generation, I knew there would be places where I would stumble, and I would have questions,” said Jennifer Cruz, who is majoring in communication with a concentration in film. “Thanks to orientation and the people on this campus, I’ve had all my questions and concerns answered. Don’t be afraid to go to college. Everyone here at Dalton State is super friendly and here to help. I wanted to come to college to follow my dream of working in the film industry. The people here at Dalton State motivate me to try my best and get out there to pursue my dream.”

For Kevin Nguyen, a communication major with a concentration in film, the biggest transition to college was the amount of school work required.

“There’s a lot more responsibility on me,” he said. “I want a better opportunity. That was why I decided to come to college. Most of my family didn’t have that opportunity.”

Carolina Gomez is a first-generation student who is double majoring in nursing and biology. She also serves as president for the Student Government Association.

“My parents moved to Dalton to help us reach our dreams and fulfill our goals,” she said. “The ultimate goal for me is medical school. No one in my family really knew how to apply to college or anything that comes with that, like filling out financial aid forms. It was a big learning curve for me, but Dalton State helped me through it. It means the world to me and to my family that I’m here.”