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First Generation – Ms. Leslie Harris

Tell us about yourself: In this section were you involved with TRIO?

I am originally from the beautiful Windy City-Chicago, Illinois. Some of my most salient identities include being a woman of color, who is a first-generation college student, and a daughter of immigrants. I also come from a lower-socioeconomic upbringing. With this, I have always been told by my parents that they wanted me to “make it out.” It was hoped that I would be able to attend college and begin the process to start moving future generations of my family up the social class ladder. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in 2014 from Illinois College and my Master of Science degree in College Student Personal Administration in 2016 from Illinois State University. When I started college, I had a sense of pride that made me believe that I did not need help-I was going to be able to graduate all on my own. After not doing well in my Biology 101 class, which happened to be my major at the time, I quickly learned that I was mistaken. I joined the TRIO Student Support Services program in the spring semester of my freshmen year. That was one of the best decisions I made in my collegiate career. Seeking out that assistance truly saved me and I still credit the TRIO program with my success. It was because of the TRIO program that I decided to pursue my masters in higher education. It brings me true fulfillment to not only work in TRIO, but to have been able to be promoted up to the Director position after such a short time of working at Georgia Southern University. As a staff member, my favorite part of my job, and the part that keeps me going, is the opportunity to work with such great students and to be able-in a way-give back to an organization that has given me so much.

What was it like being a first-generation college student? What barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?

My biggest barrier I had to overcome in college was my pride. I had a mentality that I had made it to college by myself and because of that, I did not need the assistance of anyone else. It wasn’t until I failed two test in my Bio 101 course that I realized I had no idea what I was doing and that if I truly wanted to succeed, I was going to have to get some help. Even when I joined the TRIO program, it took me about a year to truly utilize the resources that the program had to offer. I was so convinced that even though I had join this incredible program that was there to provide guidance in the very areas that I was struggling with, that I could not be too needy. In my mind, if I had done too much, I was going to look as if I was not fit to be in college and ultimately be asked to leave the institution. It sounds crazy, but that’s what I had convinced myself of. It was my involvement in TRIO that allowed me to truly understand that there is never anything wrong with asking for help.

What kind of support did you receive from friends and family?

Although my parents have only an eight grade education, they have always been my biggest cheerleaders through my academic journey. As I mentioned before, they wanted me to “become something.” Because of this, they have always encouraged me whenever I had a thought to do something. Their only hope was for me to attend college. That was it really. But when I was close to graduating college and decided that I wanted to further my education by pursuing my masters, they were excited! I am pretty sure they were more excited than me. Even today, every few months, my mom will ask me “so uh…when are you going back to school? When will I get to call you Dr. Harris?” That has been such a huge relief. Even though they have no idea what it is that I do, or why I do it, they just know that education means a lot to me and they want to ensure that I am always working on the best version of myself.

What can GS do better in supporting first-generation students?

I believe that Georgia Southern has made a significant stride in providing support for first-generation students by having programs such as TRIO across all campuses. The TRIO programs already have a strong network of support from many different partners on campus. Continued understandings in all facets from all university constituents is a great way to support students.

Giving encouraging words to 1st generation staff and students who haven’t realized their academic dreams.

My advice to those who are first-generation is to never be too prideful to ask for help. There are so many resources around to help you succeed not only academically, but personally and professionally as well. I almost allowed my pride to get in my way during college, because I thought I could do it all myself. Get out of your own way and seek that additional assistance! The very thing you are running away from could be the very thing that you need to reach that next level.

Last updated: 2/10/2022