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First Generation Student Shares Her Experience at NorthWest Arkansas Community College
The following blog post is written by NWACC student, Shonna Enzio.
It’s summer of 2019, and I have slipped into my home office and closed the door, even though no one is home. Loud vibrations ascend from cars gathered in the parking lot of my wrong-side-of-the-tracks, Texas apartment. Frantic, I shut the blinds. The sunlight and sound are both obscured. It is dark, which makes me feel safe; no one can see my audacity in the dark. I can’t believe I’m considering this; people will think I’m crazy. I’m not smart enough, talented enough—but I want to be, I tell myself. The NWACC website illuminates the gloomy room. My hands tremble as I navigate.
Associate of Fine Arts creative writing degree plan is staring at me for the hundredth time. I want to be a writer, I thought. This aspiration is profoundly compelling, I’m blinking back tears—my dwindling dream for the past decade has been to publish a book.
I click Admissions and Aid, then Enrollment Services. I’m actually going to do this, I think. I’m about to take the first step—my heart is thrumming. Wiping sweat from my palms, I scroll until I see the green bar that reads, Apply Today.
Can I do this? What if I fail? I know nothing about college, but you have successful friends that have graduated, I quibble with myself. They are smarter than I am. Besides, my parents didn’t go to college. I will be alone in this journey. What if I fail? People will realize how foolish I am! Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear the words, What if you don’t? I click on Get Started Now, before I lose my nerve. I am on my way!
I share my story in hopes that it will resonate with and encourage other first-generation students to take the first step towards pursuing a higher education. I believe that we, as a population, struggle with self-doubt when first entertaining the prospect of college. There may be a multitude of insecurities that attempt to hinder first-generation students from pursuing their dreams, and often the origins of these challenges are rooted in our own past shortcomings. Some of the internal dialogue that prohibited me included: Your son needs you, you’re not smart enough, you only have an eighth-grade education, college is expensive, and we can’t waste money. It took deep self-reflection but eventually, I saw my wall of insecurities for what it was: a broken record of lies that I possessed the power to erase.
My fear of academic failure began in 1999 when I entered college as a high school dropout with a GED. I was young, and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I was also distracted with personal interest and didn’t apply myself. I attempted to coast through college the way I had coasted through school. I think that subconsciously, I set myself up for failure by starting with my weakest subject, math. I remember sitting in class thinking, I am doing well, but test after test came back with 20s and 30s for grades. Instead of seeking help from my professor or the math center, I told myself that I couldn’t do it and that I’d never graduate. With no support system, it was easy to drop out when I became pregnant in my second semester.
In 2013, I enrolled in trade school to become a licensed medical massage therapist. I was a single mother and was tired of my dead-end customer service job. In the beginning, massage was an excellent career. It paid the bills, but it didn’t offer other crucial benefits like health insurance, financial stability or employer respect. By 2019, I had given so many massages that my hands were at risk of expiring. I couldn’t continue to work through pain every day, I needed a new career. I soon discovered that even with vast experience, job options outside my field were terribly limited. Employers wanted an associate or bachelor’s degree; experience was not enough.
By examining my situation, I realized that I was in a different place than I had been in 1999 or even 2013. I was no longer a single mother and had a strong support system behind me. My fiancée, Ben and I were attempting to relocate to Northwest Arkansas from Texas. It seemed like this new beginning was my make-or-break moment for returning to college.
To conquer my hesitation, I began researching one of the writing clubs at NWACC, Insatiable Ink. The advisors for the club were listed online. I thought, Who else could better offer insight on what to expect as a writing major than someone who devoted their life to teaching writing? I e-mailed Justin Burkart, adjunct professor of English, and to my surprise he responded, and then continued to respond to all my questions over the following year. He went above and beyond the call of a professor for a prospective student. He commended me for my dedication to writing and offered the tangible support I was longing to believe in myself! His confidence in my ability was the necessary boost to hide in a dark room and submit my application for the fall 2019 semester.
Once I applied to NWACC, I knew I needed to tell Ben what I had done - Ben, who was already planning on returning to college to become a respiratory therapist. I was exceedingly nervous, and could barely get the words out. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but the pride that radiated from his eyes, after hearing my decision, wasn’t what I expected. His confidence in my abilities awakened the courage to tell friends and family. To my surprise, they already believed in me!
NWACC has been the perfect choice. The faculty and staff are committed to helping first generation students be successful - it’s part of NWACC’s culture of acceptance. From orientation, where classes are offered to help first generation students prepare for their college journey, to professors who go above and beyond to demonstrate their belief in their students. NWACC’s culture feels welcoming, like there is a place for me here.
What can a successful first-generation student expect after his or her first semester at NWACC? Jump ahead to January of 2020, and it’s my first day of spring semester. I have returned to the halls that I missed over winter break, and I’m walking to my first honors class when a professor I have never met asks, “Can I help you find a classroom?” I smile, because I know where I am going. Turning down the hall, I pass the welcome desk where I am greeted, and then stop to chat with several students that I remember from classes and clubs last semester. It’s in these moments that I realize I not only belong here, but I feel at home.
Later that night while sitting in my dining room watching Ben cook dinner, I open my computer. There’s an e-mail in my inbox that reads, “Congratulations on making the Dean’s List.” I tear up, a sense of pride burgeoning inside me. I, the girl who failed so many years ago, had not only survived my first semester at NWACC, but did it well! And so can you. The courage you need is already within you.
There’s a Place for You Here.
Visit nwacc.edu or call 479-986-4000 to learn more about choosing a higher education with NWACC.