Celebrating first‑gen Cougs: WSU Spokane

WSU Spokane

As Washington State University prepares for a systemwide celebration of National First-Generation Day on Monday, Nov. 8, the university is taking this opportunity to congratulate and thank all first-generation students, faculty, and staff on each of our campuses. In the days leading up to Nov. 8, we will introduce you to some of these extraordinary individuals.

For this first feature, Steve Nakata with the Division of Student Affairs reached out to Christina Brelia, graduate program coordinator in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Selomie Habtemichael, Doctor of Pharmacy candidate (2023) and MBA candidate (2022), and Tanya Rivera, a senior in speech and Hearing Sciences, at WSU Spokane, for their thoughts about being first-gen at WSU.

What does it mean to you to be first-generation?

Closeup of Tanya Rivera
Tanya Rivera

Rivera: “First-gen means that I get to experience the opportunities that my parents missed out on. Their sacrifices are giving me a better life than they had, and it’s a way they can achieve their dreams through me.”

Habtemichael: “To be first-gen is hope for me, it’s a hope that I will make my parent’s dream come true. To be pursuing higher education is an honor because my parents sacrificed their own education so that I can have a better life in the future. It is an opportunity for me to make my parents proud, and I hope that I can show them in the end that their sacrifices didn’t go to waste.”   

How did being first-gen affect your college experience?

Selomie Habtemichael

Habtemichael: “I felt lost for much of my undergraduate years, especially because I didn’t have many friends. That made it a lot harder for me to find information on how to succeed. Eventually, I gained courage through my struggles and learned to step out of my comfort zone to become the person I needed to be successful.”

Brelia: “I felt a little out of place sometimes, as I didn’t really know the questions to ask or how to navigate the system. My advisor was extremely helpful, but sometimes I’d miss opportunities because I wasn’t a 100% aware of wording or how to look for certain things such as scholarships or internships.”  

What helped you most?

Christina Brelia

Brelia: “While in high school, my MESA teacher helped encourage the possibilities of going to college. My family was lower middle class, so the financial impact of college seemed discouraging. I also think my Head Start counselor at Spokane Falls Community College helped me a lot with navigating college life as a single parent.”

Rivera: “The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) helped me not only succeed as a student, but as an individual in the real world. Through CAMP I got to have a family away from home, be a part of other first-gen services like McNair and TRIO, and meet individuals who come from the same background.”

What would you tell your younger self and/or current first-gen students?

Rivera: “Go out of your comfort zone and find what works for you. Give yourself grace as you start to network, join clubs, take chances, and just try to get every opportunity around you. The worst that can happen is being told no, but even then, keep trying.”

Habtemichael: “There is no need to struggle and there is no need to fail when there are adequate resources available to help. You made it this far because you are smart and capable. Never underestimate yourself. Find your voice and seek guidance from academic advisors and to do your own research. If you come across people who don’t believe in you, do not let that stop you.”

To learn more about WSU’s systemwide plans to celebrate National First-Generation Day, visit the First at WSU webpage

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