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UE recognizes first-generation students at Monday celebration

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 12:23 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The University of Evansville has joined colleges and universities across the nation in recognizing the fourth-annual First-Generation College Celebration.

Walking across a college campus in America as part of the student body is a privilege many have, but a privilege some sacrifice everything for.

“I came to the states when I was nine, I’m what you call a 1.5 generation Korean American,” said Dr. Su Jin Jeong, associate professor of public health at UE. “Education has always been a part of my life, I think my family were just not afforded the opportunity to be able to attend college.”

Dr. Jeong says she never could have imagined becoming an educator. Working at UE is a symbol of hard work and her family’s sacrifice.

“Around the world America is seen as a land of opportunity, and I think being brought over here and given those opportunities I’ve been able to achieve what I have so far in life,” said Jeong. “That’s something everybody can have access to in this country.”

“That includes people like my parents. They immigrated from Russia to the United States in the early 90s for a better life,” Jeong said. “They came with my two sisters, one suitcase and $50. Because of their sacrifice, I have opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m the first of my family to receive higher education in the U.S.”

UE Student Body President Alex Ortiz has a similar story. His family is from Guerrero, Mexico.

“If my family would have stayed in the region they were in, I probably would not have the fortune to know more than one language, I also would not be as successful as I currently am right now,” Ortiz said. “I probably would be working out in the fields just like they were in their time there.”

Both Ortiz and Dr. Jeong say there is no obstacle too big.

“There is always going to be limitations and barriers that are going to be in front of you, but if you change your perspective and view them as a challenge and an opportunity to grow, honestly there’s really nothing that can stop you,” Ortiz said.

“For kids out there that really want to pursue education, and feel that they don’t have the means or the opportunities, I want to challenge them and say you do,” said Jeong. “You can!”

The awareness day was created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity for Education and Center for First-Generation Student Success.

The date also coincides with the anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which has helped millions of low-income, first-gen students earn college degrees.

Officials say, for the 2021-22 academic year, approximately 14 percent of UE’s full-time undergraduates are first-gen. Of the full-time faculty, staff and administration, more than 30 individuals are also first-gen.

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