Faces of First-Gen

"Because representation matters, we the first-generation faculty and staff of UNT feel it's important that our students can see themselves in our stories so we can help them along as they create theirs." -Desiree

Read below to hear inspiring advice and stories from our faculty and staff at UNT who were first-generation college students!

Sarah Evans, Ph.D. 

Assistant Professor
Department of Information Science 
College of Information

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

"Being first-gen comes with a lot of pressure because your family thinks you can do anything since you were accepted to college. So when you stumble and struggle, which you will, it can feel like you are just not as good as they think you are and that you will disappoint them. But struggling is how we grow, so don't be afraid of it. Know that there are people and services in place to help you. You can ask for help! And you can achieve your degree!" 

Candi Harris, MPA

Senior Student Success Coordinator
Strategic Retention Initiatives

What motivated you as a first-generation student?

"There did not seem to be another choice- I knew I wanted some different things in my life and that gaining that college degree would allow me to experience those things. Stability for example has been a byproduct of my completing college." 

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John Quintanilla, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
University Distinguished Teaching Professor 
Department of Mathematics
College of Science 

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

"Never be afraid to ask questions. There are a whole lot of knowledgeable people at UNT who are committed to your success and can answer just about any question that you might have." 

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Jessa McKinnis, M. Ed. 

Assistant Director
Residence Life and Housing

What motivated you as a first-generation student?

"When I was younger, I was encouraged by my mother to continue in school. She sacrificed so much for me to be successful. There was not a question of "do you want to go to college?" It was always, "Which college are you going to?" I saw her struggle working multiple jobs to barely make it by and I did not want that for myself." 

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Jason Chiang, Ph.D. 

Senior Lecturer
Department of Educational Psychology 
College of Education

What motivated you as a first-generation student?

"Seeing my parents working tirelessly to raise three children and how difficult it was for them to find a well-paid job without a college degree made me strive to improve my life by learning knowledge and skills in school."

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Sze Sze Tong, Ph.D. 

Associate Director of Testing and Special Projects
Counseling and Testing

What does being first-generation mean to you?

"It wasn't easy. Without my parents to help me understand what would happen, I had to navigate college pretty independently. The experience made me resourceful and resilient which I think people tend to sugar coat. To get there is a long process of relying on yourself, doubt, fear and finding support to help you surmount your obstacles. The experiences I had in college and the amount I learned to rely on myself, however, helped me be successful later in life. As difficult as it was, I am proud of all that I have accomplished because I know I worked hard to be where I am in life."

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Tamara Brown, Ph.D.

Executive Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Social Science

What motivated you as a first-generation student?

My teachers and family members.

"My family instilled in me a strong work ethic and the importance of an education; they could not help me get it but they could (and did) point me in that direction and gave me what they could as preparation and emotional support for what they could not imagine or know. My teachers helped open my eyes and elevated my gaze to envision possibilities I did not even know existed and helped me reach them. In sum, having people believe in me and demonstrate that belief in words and actions, motivated me to keep trying and keep climbing."

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Joey Saxon, Ed.D

Associate Vice President
Student Financial Services

What does being first-generation mean to you?

"It means that I had the opportunity to change the history and future for my family."

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Valarie J. Bell, M.A., Ph.D.

Clinical Assistant Professor
Information Technology and Decision Sciences

What does being first-generation mean to you?

"I am a role model for those students who like myself were not born to privilege. Believe in yourself especially when others don't and find multiple mentors to help you reach each step of your educational and career goals."

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Tiffany Bromfield, M.A.

Community Director
Housing and Residence Life

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

"Asking for help does not make you weak. There's an entire group of people at UNT who want to help you succeed. Find your community. Being apprehensive is normal but give 110% effort every day."

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Dorothy Bland, Ph.D

Professor of Journalism
Mayborn School of Journalism

What does being first-generation mean to you?

"I am proud to be a first-generation college student, and feel I have an obligation to help others along the journey of life."

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Virnin Bonner, M.A. 

Academic Counselor, Health Professions 
Adjunct Faculty
College of Science

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

"Know that you aren't alone! You are the first but not the only- we want to help you. Although asking for help may not be a common quality; it can make the process easier. Carry your identity with pride!" 

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