Celebrating first‑gen Cougs: WSU Vancouver

Decorative fountains on the WSU Vancouver campus.
WSU Vancouver

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.

In this feature, Steve Nakata with the Division of Student Affairs connected with LaShay Wesley, a senior majoring in digital technology and culture, and Connie Nguyen-Truong, associate professor in the College of Nursing and faculty affiliate in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, at WSU Vancouver, for their thoughts about being first-gen at WSU.

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

Connie Nguyen-Truong

Nguyen-Truong: “I am grateful to my parents because they wanted for my two young siblings and I to have a good educational opportunity in the United States. I am inspired by my parents who went to school full-time and worked multiple jobs while raising a family. I am the first female in my ancestry line to graduate from elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school with my Ph.D. in Nursing and Education.”

Wesley: “Being first-gen means that you have the opportunity to set a path for yourself and others, and there is a lot of pressure on you.” 

How did being first-gen affect your college experience? 

Nguyen-Truong: “I identify as a person of color. I stayed strong and positive while navigating adversity. I used my empowered voice and uplifted people through community organizing, leadership development, and research skill building. I am honored to have resuscitated people whose heart stopped and brought them back to life. I care for people who are ill, dying, and living in terms of health promotion across the lifespan. This helps people to have more time to live their lives, including more time with their families.”

Wesley: “Usually you have support and are guided when you first come to college, but I came to college alone. It made it harder for me because I had to rely on others to guide me, and I put pressure on myself when I fail.” 

LaShay Wesley

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

Nguyen-Truong: “Courage, honor, love, empowerment, and resiliency continues to be a part of my journey. To current students who are first-generation, thank you for being you and being here. You belong here.” 

Wesley: “I would tell my younger self that I need to give myself grace and don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek support.”

Which program, person, or resources helped you most?

Wesley: “For me, it has been CILA (Center for Intercultural Learning and Affirmation). A lot of people help me there when I get stuck and they give me a new perspective on things.”

Nguyen-Truong: “I knew that I wanted to be in a health caring nursing profession including being an educator and nurse scientist. I am grateful to faculty mentors who genuinely saw me and worked with me in a holistic way.”

Visit CILA’s website to explore its mission and programs. To learn more about WSU’s systemwide plans to celebrate National First-Generation Day, visit the First at WSU webpage.

Read the previous articles in this series about first-gen Cougs:

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