Setting The New Standard: One Man's Journey as a First Generation Student

Adrian Rosado, a first generation to college student now working in Instructional Design and Strategy, understands the struggles that First Gen students face, and hopes to be a beacon of hope to show these students that any obstacle can be overcome through hard work and perseverance. Because of his powerful gifts as a First Gen leader, Adrian, alongside Rocio Perez and Erin McClarty, will be leading a session in the 2017 GlobalMindED First Gen Student Leadership Program. In preparation for the conference, I sat down and talked with Adrian to learn his backstory and what inspired him to help First Gen students.

Please tell me a little bit about your background.

As a first generation college student who is now an adult, I am looking at this question a bit differently in terms of my ‘background’. While I can speak about business/career/educational background - I want to go with my personal upbringing and what made me realize that being First Gen was even a ‘thing’:

My mother raised me in a single parent household. She was 18 years old when she gave birth to me, so it sometimes felt as though we were growing up together. At the time, she did not have a college education, but was very aware that it would be essential for me to have one if I wanted to get to certain levels and have certain opportunities in life. I mention that because growing up, there weren’t people who were related to me or even looked like me that were in college, so when my mother was so adamant about good grades and college - I never truly understood why.

I saw ‘successful’ people around me all the time. If someone had a house and a paid-off car, to me they were successful. Which is very much true, but my mother knew that I wanted more from life than simply what I saw around me. She knew I wanted to travel the world, she knew I wanted a global lens to create solutions with, and she also knew that by obtaining a college degree I would be on a level playing field to impact my community or anywhere I else I chose to go.

Once I made the conscious decision that I wanted to pursue a university degree - that is when it hit me that I was a first generation college student. All the legwork that had to be done on my end - from phone calls to researching majors to speaking with counselors - this was all very new to my family and me. From that moment on, I knew that I was going to have to work twice as hard as my peers to reach my goals and graduate. Fortunately, resilience and persistency are traits that my mother instilled in me at an early age.

Once I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I realized quickly that there was a glass ceiling in the workforce and that I was not happy with the job that I had taken out of college. All that would go through my mind was, “You did something no one in your family has done yet, only to be told what you can or cannot do in the workplace, and that there is only so much room for growth within the company because of experience and educational background.” In an instant, I had to make a decision about what direction I wanted my life to go in. Help build someone else’s dream, or focus on my own? That is when I decided to pursue my Master’s degree, which would ultimately lead me to my profession: Instructional Design and Strategy.

Being First Gen, what aspects did you struggle with the most, and how did you overcome them?

While there were many things that were a struggle initially, I think the hardest part for me was not having anyone to talk to about the whole ‘college’ process. Again, not really knowing anyone firsthand that had a college degree really limited my belief in the necessity for one. In my head, I had to think about finances, time, and opportunity cost. I would constantly think to myself, “Adrian, you could be working and making money, like your friends from the neighborhood who have cars and apartments.” Mind you, this was my 17-19 year-old way of thinking. Watching TV, reading books, listening to the radio - very rarely were there people that I could connect with or even better, relate to. So when looking for justification as to why I should spend so much time and money on a college degree, I had to trust my mother and the concept that this was the right decision, moreover - the right investment.

What other unique challenges do you feel First Gen students face that their peers may not? How can they overcome these?

Another set of unique challenges that first generation students will face is the pressure of choosing a major or career path. As First Gen students, not only are we asked to make a monumental decision about pursuing a college education, but we are also asked to make a decision about what type of career we want our lives to reflect – all at a very young age. I bring that up because when I was accepted into college and asked to pick a major, I was 19 years old. At that time, I thought I wanted to become an international corporate attorney, because they seemed really cool in the movies; so I chose political science as my major and international studies as my minor. Fast-forward about two years, and I came to realize, after shadowing law firms and taking enough classes, that I didn’t necessarily want to become a lawyer. However, I invested so much time and credits into the degree that I dared not switch majors and add another year or two onto my time in college. Until attending college and meeting people from different backgrounds, cultures, and upbringings, there were not many ‘professions’ that I was aware of. Again, the ‘successful’ people from my neighborhood were ‘teachers’, ‘policemen’, ‘doctors’ or ‘lawyers’. That was what I knew and what I was aiming for.

What strengths do First Gen students have that their peers may not?

In my opinion and personal experience, being a first generation student gave me two very specific strengths over my peers. First, a sense of pride that comes with being the first in your family to set a new standard and blaze a new path for the younger generations behind you. Whether they are siblings, cousins, community members, etc. - you are becoming a window to the world for your community and serving as a catalyst for hope and new ways of thinking.

Secondly, a very significant strength for me was having ‘thick skin’. Meaning that my experiences growing up in non-traditional family structures and situations would allow me to face the challenges that college would present, with a sense of confidence knowing that I have already overcome significant obstacles to simply be in this position. Seeing broken homes, experiencing loss due to violence, having to be aware of what color clothing you are wearing so as not to offend gang members…. these conditions gave me a perspective of pure focus and dedication at the college level. At this point, I knew what I did not want to become, so let’s see what we can become by doing something different: attending and graduating college.

What would you hope to teach the students about the experiences and skill sets needed for First Gen students?

As Rocio, Erin and myself were developing the curriculum for the First Gen student experience, one thing that was racing to the top of our heads was, How did we, as First Gen students, want to learn, and what did we want to learn? Our thought process included the words: interactive, free-flowing, student-driven, relevant, universal dexterity, interpersonal development, as well as the ability to have impactful communication in a group setting. My session specifically focuses on expanding the students’ confidence and ability to articulate their individual skill sets to a group of people in a formal or social setting. After 8+ years of working with students and employees on professional development, I have found that people sometimes have trouble explaining what they are passionate about, what they are expert in, and what drives them. Being able to articulate those is essential at the university and professional level, because the information you provide opens the opportunity for assessment, collaboration, and creation.

Adrian Rosado’s story is an inspiration to any first generation to college student that feels like they are being weighed down by the pressure of academia. He will speak to a class of 100 exceptional students at the GlobalMindED First Generation Student Leadership Pre-Conference this June 21 in Denver, CO. If you are interested in being a part of this year’s class, please submit your application here.

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