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First-Generation Student Graduates With Honors and Shares Her College Experience

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Photo Caption: Jennifer Eadie with her grandmother, mother, and sister.

College graduation was especially sweet for Jennifer Eadie. A first-generation student, she's the first woman in her family to graduate from college. While many first-generation college students don't graduate, not only did Jennifer graduate with honors, she shined brightly during her four years at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.

Awarded numerous scholarships, Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history with a minor in theater and graduated Cum Laude. Her additional academic achievements include being placed on the President's and Provost's Lists and being named to Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. In addition to her academic feats, Jennifer took part in numerous student activities and leadership opportunities.

Her internship at Georgia's Andersonville National Historic Site and the former Camp Sumter (a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War) resulted in the production of a documentary film, Andersonville Prison During the Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns: A Documentary.

Impressed with Jennifer's college achievement, I decided to ask her several questions. Jennifer welcomed the idea of sharing her college experience. Our hope is that her insights and experience will inspire other first-generation students to obtain a college education.

Question: What challenges did you face going to college? And how did you overcome these challenges?
With being a first-generation college student, there were many challenges along the way. I wasn't quite sure how the whole college thing worked, other than what I saw on television and in the movies.

In high school, learning came naturally to me. I didn't have to study hard to achieve high grades, but college was a completely different story. I had to teach myself study habits, and I had to put a lot of effort in studying to achieve the grades that once came so easily to me. No one warned me of that transition, so that proved to be the most difficult my first year of college.

Another challenge that I faced was the social aspect. Going to a private college I thought I was going to be surrounded by students who graduated from private high schools, all top five in their class, and who came from families who had a lot of money. The summer leading up to my first year I continuously compared myself to the imagined student body that I thought I was going to encounter. Once I arrived at Wesleyan, I realized that the majority of the student body came from backgrounds similar to mine.

Question: Why did you choose Wesleyan College?
Coming to Wesleyan College was a last-minute decision, but it is a decision that I am very thankful I made. I had previously applied to all co-ed colleges and was in the process of filing through my acceptance letters and scholarship awards in order to come to a decision when my journalism teacher Mrs. Beth Everett suggested Wesleyan. I had never heard of the school, but Mrs. Everett convinced me to tour the college, and so I did. Almost immediately after I stepped foot on campus, it felt like home. I remember my mom looking around at the beautiful architecture and saying, "Jennifer, this looks like you." After meeting some of the professors, staff members, and students, I knew that I needed to apply immediately. I had never experienced such a wonderful campus visit; it was so personalized and informative. After the visit, they sent me a follow-up card, and a Christmas ornament...just for visiting.

Another deciding factor was the type of women Wesleyan graduated. One in particular who caught my attention was Neva Jane Langley Fickling. Mrs. Neva was the first, and so far only, Miss Georgia to win Miss America (1953); and she was attending Wesleyan when that accomplishment happened. I am active in pageants, so that created a personal connection for me.

Other women who graduated from Wesleyan include the Soong sisters (first Chinese women to be educated in America), and Viola Napier (first woman to argue a case before the Georgia Supreme Court), along with many others. Reading the list of alumnae accomplishments made me realize that Wesleyan strives to graduate strong, successful women; and I wanted to be a part of that.

Question: What kept you motivated to succeed during college?
My adviser, Dr. Karen Huber, and Admissions Councilor, Amy Whaley, along with other professors and family members played a major role in my motivation to succeed.

Dr. Huber challenged me to strive to be better and supported me when I made the decision not to write a paper for my senior seminar, but to produce a film documentary instead. When thinking about graduate programs, she helped me in deciding long-term career goals and helped me work out a plan to achieve those goals.

Whereas Dr. Huber motivated me academically, Amy motivated me in almost all other aspects. When I felt like my school work was harder than predicted, she would give me pep-talks; when I started to feel like a failure or like I didn't belong in college, she cheered me up. As graduation drew closer and my "Senioritis" grew stronger, Amy encouraged me to push through it and give everything my best.

Being a first-generation student, I was glad that I had people who supported me and who knew exactly what I was struggling through. With Wesleyan's small student to teacher ratio, I was able to approach my professors when I needed help; and they in turn proved to be very encouraging and understanding. I also think that with Wesleyan being a women's college, the professors understood all the emotions that women go through throughout their college journey.

Question: Did your college provide you with resources you found helpful as a first-generation student?
Wesleyan provided me with a plethora of resources, from scholarships to internship opportunities. I really appreciated how Wesleyan was able to help me with my transition to college without coddling me. The faculty and staff were available to help me, as long as I was willing to help myself.

When reflecting back to the young woman I was when I graduated from high school to whom I am now, there is a major difference, I am more confident in every aspect of my life. Not only am I walking away with a degree, but I am walking away with experiences that I can put on my résumé thanks to Wesleyan.

I cannot stress enough how much Wesleyan focuses on individuality and personally helps you reach the goals that you have set for yourself. Through Wesleyan's Student Leadership Institute, I was able to tour National Parks in South Dakota and Wyoming, present my research at the Florida Conference of Historians, and gain a temporary internship at Andersonville National Historic Site.

The cool thing about it is, I am not an anomaly at Wesleyan, several students share the same experiences but molded to fit their major and goals.

Question: What advice do you have for other first-generation students thinking about going to college?
My advice would be to choose a college that will treat you as an individual and not as another number. Being the first in your family can be scary and challenging, choose a college that will help you work out the kinks, support you, and allow you to gain an experience that will give you more than just a degree. That is what I found in Wesleyan.

As a first-generation student myself, I'm glad I decided upon a women's college. Just as Jennifer's and my alma mater provided us with support, encouragement, and numerous opportunities, this is true of other women's colleges. Women's colleges take great care, and really excel at, educating women, including first-generation students.

If you're like Jennifer, a first-generation student, determined to earn her college degree, I encourage you to include in your college research colleges for women. Check out Wesleyan College located in Macon, Georgia, or any of the other fine women's colleges across the country. Only you can decide which college offers you the best fit. To help get you started, on my blog, Advantages of a Women's College, I list all the women's colleges located within the United States.

Congratulations Jennifer Eadie! I'm thrilled for you and your many achievements; including your new job as an Admissions Representative with Wesleyan College. The first job after college is always so exciting!