South Central College honors and celebrates the success of our first-generation college students, faculty, and staff for National First-Generation Day.
The experiences of these students differ from those who are not first-generation students. Many first-generation students find it hard to navigate the vast landscape of higher education and encounter obstacles that can keep them from being successful.
Student Profile: Jess Dewar
“I belong here.”
In 2020, Jess Dewar found herself in a difficult situation. She was a single mom of two daughters aged four and 10 and was working as a bartender when her place of business closed because of the pandemic.
She knew it would be difficult for her to make ends meet without a degree and limited job options. In hindsight, COVID turned out to be the catalyst for her to make a major life change. Up until then, she didn’t realize how unfulfilling her work life was and how much time she was missing out on with her kids because of working the night shift. She knew she wanted better.
She was faced with a tough decision about what to do about her future. The thought of going back to school crossed her mind. It was intimidating and exciting at the same time. She was nervous and uncertain about whether she would have what it takes to go back to school. It was important for her to enroll in a college that would be able to support her on her journey.
As a first-generation student, Jess didn’t know where to turn and didn’t have people who could help guide her. She reached out and was accepted into South Central College’s (SCC) TRIO program which is known for its commitment to the support of first-generation students, low-income students, or students with disabilities. TRIO offers many programs to support a variety of students and prepare them for the challenges to help them overcome obstacles they face throughout their college experience. Jess has been able to tap into academic, financial, and personal assistance to help her succeed in college, stay in college, maintain good grades and successfully graduate.
Today, Jess is working her way towards a Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway Associate of Science (AS) degree, which allows students to seamlessly transfer to a four-year institution’s Social Work bachelor’s program after graduating from SCC. With every class, she feels more confident and even meets regularly with other students. “I have a huge sense of accomplishment,” said Jess. “I never thought I’d be here.” She found that SCC is a good fit for her, and she appreciates the close-knit community and the one-on-one attention from faculty. “I have not met one instructor or advisor who doesn’t want me to succeed,” she said. “They care.”
After graduating from SCC, she plans to continue her education at Minnesota State University, Mankato to earn a bachelor’s degree then a master’s degree in social work. She is driven to pursue social work in the area of child welfare so she can work towards protecting the most vulnerable in our society and supporting children and families in need of assistance. “Because if I don’t do it – if I don’t help kids, who will?”
The supportive programs at SCC have proven to be a game-changer for Jessica. She is no longer a bartender and has a work-study job that she is proud of. She has changed in so many positive ways and she now sees herself in a new light with a promising future.
According to Linda Leech, TRIO Program Director, “Jessica is an amazing collaborator and shares information to help other students. She has become a respected mentor.”
Jess is putting in the work to improve herself, and in doing so, she is improving the lives of her family. Soon she’ll be changing the lives of children who need her assistance, and all these efforts will also help her community. Going back to school as an adult has a ripple effect that benefits everyone.
Jess gives advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. “If anyone is on the fence about going back to school, just come here and talk with someone. It’s very doable. This is not impossible. You’ll feel like you belong here.”
Student Profile: Farhiya M Abdirahman
Farhiya Abidrahman has lived in Indonesia, Ethiopia and East Africa. But due to civil conflict and unrest, she needed to flee East Africa and couldn’t return to her homeland of Ethiopia. Farhiya may have left war behind, but life in the U.S. meant overcoming new challenges as a refugee. In 2018, she was homeless and had a young child. She had already endured a difficult journey, but she was determined not to give up.
As a first-generation, immigrant, single mother, and diverse student, she knew she was going to need a plan. A friend recommended South Central College (SCC) because she could get an advisor that speaks her native language. She made the choice to move to the area and start a new life.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Farhiya said. “When I got here, I didn’t know where to go, how to register, which classes would benefit me, or how anything works.” She speaks six languages (four fluently) but understanding life in the U.S. and how to navigate the realm of higher education was another challenge.
She was connected to Mandy Quist, TRIO Advisor, and it has made all the difference. Fast forward to today, Farhiya will be graduating this spring with her AA degree and will transfer to Mankato State University, Mankato to pursue her educational journey in the Social Work program. She is also an active member of TRIO Leadership Council (TLC) which is a student organization for TRIO students to develop and hone their leadership skills.
Mandy described Farhiya in one word – Resilient! “Farhiya sees the positive in everything and always with the glass being 100% full,” she said. “She is determined, motivated and goal-oriented and we are so happy to see her succeed as a student.”
“I am so proud of myself and never knew I would be able to go to school one day,” said Farhiya. “SCC is helping me make my dream come true, and I know I’m making my dad in heaven proud. My goal is to help single mothers and I will not stop until I get my degree.”
“Falling back to where I was is not an option,” she said. “If I fall, I’m going to fall forward.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without Mandy helping me – I just love her,” she said, adding, “If other students have the opportunity, join TRIO!”
TRIO Student Support Services provides a variety of comprehensive and supplemental academic and educational support. TRIO provides advising, financial aid counseling, personal support, and help with academic planning, major, and career exploration for low- to moderate-income, first-generation, and special-needs students.
Learn more about SCC’s TRIO program and find out if you qualify.