Embedded: The Untold Story of First Generation Students

Breaking Barriers & Contributing to an Educational Revolution

Hello, fellow Grenadiers! This story is for those of you who have dealt with the same circumstances and the same struggles: Silence, strife, and survival. When I applied to college as a first-generation student I felt like nobody else understood what I was experiencing. Everyone one of my friends that I talked to spoke about how confident they were in going to college. I felt stranded at sea when it came to application, registration, and other college matters at the very beginning of further pursuing my education. I thought I was the only one unsure of what lied ahead.

Embarking on this journey has led me to other first-gen students, and it has facilitated a rise within the local Indiana University Community. In this story, we speak with students, faculty, and staff who contributed to this story with a positive attitude toward initial higher education students from various families.

Before we jump into this story I would like to explain to you the purpose behind it. If you are someone who has felt frightened when it comes to college, and you are a first-generation student you are not alone. The purpose of this story is to allow your voice to be heard and to evoke a sense of belonging with your circumstances in mind here at Indiana University Southeast. It should be recognized that this story is primarily made for first-generation students, but everyone has their own unique and individualized struggles. All who are thinking about attending or are enrolled at Indiana University Southeast are strongly encouraged to become part of this movement!


I’d like to invite you to step into my world and preview the past two years of my life as a first-generation student. In this short video scrapbook, I talk to you about how it was growing up for me: Finishing high school was difficult to do while living amongst unexpected circumstances. I never thought that one day I would be determined to finish college.



There is a preconceived idea amongst the public that those students whose parents did not go to college will not end up pursuing higher education in the future. There is also a popular belief that first-generation college students don’t have the aptitude to finish college. However, there are first-generation students graduating from high school and further applying to college every day! There are many of us fighting for further education to better ourselves and our future. Long story short there are first-generation college students getting their degree and proving those previous statements wrong. We, together, are living proof.

Ronald E. Severtis, Jr., M.A. (Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Indiana University Southeast) was helpful enough to point me in the direction of statistics regarding first-generation students. These statistics are taken straight from Indiana University’s Institutional Research and Reporting team. Take a look at this interactive infographic about first-generation students:


I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with another first-generation student at Indiana University Southeast. Sarah Vanlsenberg is a local 1st Gen Tri Alpha National Honors Society Member majoring in psychology. I found Sarah on Grenadier Central under a spotlight article from Tri Alpha. What drew me to Sarah was her honesty in her responses to Tri-Alpha and her determination to graduate. I knew I had to set up a meeting and get to talking about her personal experience and ask her about any advice she had for other first-generation students.



When students reach out to each other at Indiana University Southeast it’s common that a strong connection is established no matter who you are. Whether you’re a first-generation student or a non-first-generation student we are all on the same path to get that diploma, that better life, and that better job. Receiving that diploma is more than just receiving that piece of paper. Receiving that diploma is like opening a door that you created.

So, it’s known now that students support each other at IUS. However, who should we rely on and go to when we need additional help? There are plenty of mentors at IUS who are dedicated to helping fellow students. Mentors range from current students to IUS alumni, and they know the exact same struggles that you are going through. If you’re afraid to reach out to faculty at Indiana University Southeast (which we’ll address in our next video) then free mentoring is the first step to getting help.

McKenzie Farnsley is a mentor, and she has been brave enough to share her journey and the process she has been a part of from beginning to end. In her narrative, she talks highly about her first-year mentor Leah Edlin. McKenzie states that she was terrified to meet with Leah. However, overcoming her fear, she went on to not only study under the mentor program but become one herself! She knows the ins and outs of being a mentor: The problems that students run into, the solutions to those problems, as well as the rewards of being a mentor. McKenzie Farnsley’s words are inspiring, and there are many words to hold onto from this graduating senior.

Not only does this foundation of a community rely on the first-generation students alone. A positive community for first-generation students depends heavily upon the resources provided for them and the supportive faculty surrounding them. Shane Thomas is an academic advisor for exploratory students at Indiana University Southeast. I was able to reach him through Zoom. Shane had many stories about his encounters with first-generation students, and his enthusiasm for the project should not go unnoticed. One of the most memorable tales is his story about seeing one of the first-generation students he advised at graduation.

As I mentioned before this story was created with the hope of facilitating a community here at Indiana University Southeast for first-generation students. We have heard from students, faculty, as well as staff during this journey. However, you are the next voice in this story. I want you to tell your story in the comments, and keep building this discussion… This community. We are intrigued about the students who are new and returning listeners here at The Horizon. I’m Mackenzie Kaskie, student reporter, at Indiana University Southeast.

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Pullquote Photo

You are capable of so much more than you think you are! You just have to believe it!

— Sarah Vanlsenberg

Meet the Team:

Mackenzie Kaskie (Journalist/Reporter/Story Teller)

“My name is Mackenzie Kaskie, and I am a student here at Indiana University Southeast. I am a nineteen-year-old exploratory first-generation student. I am still searching in hope of finding a career I would like to pursue long-term. This is my first year at Indiana University Southeast, and it has been an amazing first semester. I have met so many people along the way, and I have expanded my knowledge about some of the most important life skills to obtain this season.”