By Natalie Velazquez
As a first-generation Latina student in the full-time MBA program at Kellstadt, I can say my journey to here has not been easy. You’ve probably heard the term “first-generation,” but what does it really mean? It is defined as people who are the first in their family to pursue a higher education—but actually, it means much more than that.
Being first-generation means the mental load and pressures we carry go beyond just our own needs. It means translating for our parents at doctor visits or filling out applications for them that they need help figuring out, if English is not their first language. It means being there for our younger siblings as mentors and answering questions about homework. From a young age I have had to play a big role in helping my family navigate many aspects of life that non-first-gen people don’t have to worry about.
Being a first-generation student is not easy. We don’t have the advantage of being able to ask our parents for advice about career paths or how to navigate college since they didn’t have those experiences. If we get stuck with something in class, we feel like we don’t fit in—we feel like outsiders.
But even through all the challenges, I’ve come to appreciate being a first-generation student as a blessing in disguise. It has provided me with perspective and grit, and has been a big reason for my drive to succeed. Below are some bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along my way that can hopefully help you succeed too as a first-gen student:
Reach out to professors. Whether it’s a quick email introduction or introducing yourself on the first day of class, it will make a difference and help make you feel more comfortable during class discussions. Also, keep in contact with them when the course is over, as you never know when you might need a recommendation letter or career advice. Remember, professors have experience in the field of study that they are teaching, so don’t hesitate to meet with them to learn about their professional experiences.
Find on-campus employment opportunities, starting with your department of study. My concentration is management, so I reached out to the Department of Management & Entrepreneurship to find opportunities for involvement. I ended up getting hired to help launch the department’s first official newsletter and I also found a part-time student position in the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. Working an on-campus job is great for flexibility because the departments always understand that you are a student first. These jobs are an opportunity to receive hands-on experience and gain transferrable skills you can use later on in your career. Best of all, you are helping out faculty, staff and students when you work in the campus community.
Dive into Kellstadt events and organizations to build your network and experiences. As first-generation students, we have to build our own networks from scratch. The numerous events hosted by different student organizations at Kellstadt can help you do this. Check out the student organizations on DeHub or social media to find more opportunities for involvement. The ones that I have checked out are Kellstadt Women in Business and DePaul Consulting Club, as they host many career-related workshops. These kind of events are the ones to take advantage of because the companies that partner with these clubs are often looking for people like us to join their team one day! It’s always important to follow-up with the event presenter on LinkedIn or through email and ask for an informational interview if you would like to learn more about them or have questions. Another great resource for networking and career resources is Handshake. I have found recruiter and interview workshops there as well.
Take advantage of the flexibility of different course modes. Kellstadt offers different course modes, so use these options to set yourself up for success. The Flex mode courses, for example, where you can choose to attend your class in-person or online, have been very helpful as I am able to balance my time more wisely, especially with my many responsibilities at home.
Praise yourself. Last, but not least, you have to reflect on and appreciate how far you have come. As first-generation students, we are literally doing everything first in our families, and by ourselves. We are building a foundation for ourselves and for our family members who will come after us. You’re doing great and you’re not alone—keep going!
Natalie Velazquez is an MBA candidate at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. In addition to her studies, she stays active on campus with multiple student positions: peer mentor for College Access, student assistant at the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center and graduate assistant in the Department of Management & Entrepreneurship. She graduated from DePaul University in 2021 with her BS in business administration, making her a proud soon-to-be Double Demon.