Laura Pantano

I come from a strong Hispanic family that understood and valued the importance of a college education. My mom was a first generation college graduate and my dad started his degree but was unable to finish it due to family obligations. Over the years my dad took classes and was finally able to complete his degree in his late 50s. Although both of my parents instilled in me the importance of a college education and were supportive, I had to navigate my college experience on my own.

I remember the first day of orientation. I was excited about this new chapter in my life, but felt overwhelmed and completely unsure of myself. I had made the choice to attend a small liberal arts college because of the size of the campus and the fact that I wouldn’t be another face in the crowd, yet I felt lost and alone. I knew I was academically prepared and could handle the academic rigor but the whole idea of “college” was terrifying. I was fortunate that I met the right people who helped me with my transition and made my college experience phenomenal. I had to learn quickly what resources were available to me and find additional support systems on the campus. I made connections with faculty and found supportive mentors who helped me identify the resources on campus and got me connected with groups that shared similar interests. I also learned to advocate for myself. I became well acquainted with the staff in the financial aid office, knowing that they would be able to direct me to possible scholarships or grants that would help finance my education. I also found a work-study position in an office that specifically worked with first-generation students in helping them register for classes. It was because of these experiences and connections that I pursued a career in higher education and found a passion for working with first generation students.