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The latest online edition of CLA's Impact Magazine

First Gen Faculty and Staff

Aubrie Adams

Aubrie Adams

Communication Studies Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Aubrie Adams

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Communication Studies with a specialty in technology and society. First in family to go to college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Universities offer a treasure trove of resources designed to help students succeed no matter what kind of background they come from. In my own academic career, I frequently used services like tutoring and writing centers, counseling services, financial aid, career services, and cultural centers. It's a strength to acknowledge an area you could learn more about and these resources can help provide you with the tools, knowledge, and skills to navigate your academic journey! 

 

Ryan Alaniz

Ryan Alaniz

Social Sciences Department, Associate Professor
Contact Ryan Alaniz

Degree(s) Earned

M.A. Latin American Studies with specialty in Central America, Ph.D. Sociology with specialties in social movements, disasters, and community. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Find supportive colleagues to support you through the process. You are not alone.

 

Lucy Bencharit

Lucy Bencharit

Psychology and Child Development Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Lucy Bencharit

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Psychology (Affective Science). First in family to graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Your experiences and background will give you strength and grit in college. Use those experiences to learn from and inform others around you!  

 

Kelly Bennion

Kelly Bennion

Psychology and Child Development Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Kelly Bennion

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Psychology (Cognitive Neuroscience concentration), with specialty in how sleep, emotion, and stress impact memory. First in family to graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Your faculty are here for you! Know that we wouldn't have chosen a teaching-focused institution like Cal Poly unless we genuinely wanted to get to know each of you and help you achieve your goals. I cannot imagine where I would be if I didn't regularly go to my professors' office hours to talk about possible next steps, and I sincerely encourage each of you to do the same! 

 

Jay Bettergarcia

Jay Bettergarcia

Psychology and Child Development Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Jay Bettergarcia

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology specialty in LGBTQ+ populations and diversity training. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

You rock! It can be challenging to figure it all out, but reach out to supportive mentors across campus. Get involved and make a place for yourself on campus. Know that if you are struggling, you are not alone — We're here to help! 

 

Cynthia Breaux

Cynthia Breaux

Psychology and Child Development Department, Lecturer
Contact Cynthia Breaux

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a specialty in women's health. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Rely on at least one other person for support when you feel discouraged! 

 

Shawn Burn

Shawn Burn

Psychology and Child Development Department, Professor
Contact Shawn Burn

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology. First in family to go to and graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Remind yourself that you deserve to be at Cal Poly, and be persistent even when there are setbacks or challenges. Setbacks and challenges don't mean you're not cut out for college. Don't let anything or anyone stop you from getting your degree. 

 

Sabrina Canady

Sabrina Canady

CLA Advising, Lead Advisor
Contact Sabrina Canady

Degree(s) Earned

M.A. in Education, Counseling and Guidance with a focus in Higher Education. First in family to go to and graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

You are not and do not have to do this alone. We are here to help. It's okay to not know how to navigate the process of getting a degree or getting connected. What is more important is that you talk to folks, ask for help, ask them how they did it. That doesn't mean it is the same way you will, but it can help you determine what may or may not work for you. If you are not sure who to ask. Start with me or any of the other great people on this list. We want to see you succeed! 

 

Lana Caplan

Lana Caplan

Art and Design Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Lana Caplan

Degree(s) Earned

MFA specializing in Photography and Film/Video. First in family to go to and graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Seek out mentors to help give you advice on how to navigate planning your education and how to start your career. There are so many great and knowledgeable people hear wanting to help! 

 

Chris Den Hartog

Chris Den Hartog

Political Science Department, Professor
Contact Chris Den Hartog

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Political Science, specialization in American and California Government and Politics. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

If you get a low grade on something, don’t take as a sign that you’re not a good enough student to do well in college. Every student has ups and downs academically—it’s not the end of the world, and expecting yourself to be perfect all the time is not only unrealistic, but is often harmful. Just keep in mind that you wouldn’t be at Cal Poly if you weren’t a good student, and treat a disappointing grade as an opportunity to figure out how you can do better—learning to learn from a mistake or a subpar performance is one of the most valuable skills a person can develop in life, and a key to success not only academically, but in many walks of life. 

 

Mario Espinoza-Kulick

Mario Espinoza-Kulick

Ethnic Studies Department and Women's and Gender Studies Department, Lecturer
Contact Mario Espinoza-Kulick

Degree(s) Earned

Sociology, with specialty in Immigration, Health Policy, and Social Movements. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Never give up on yourselves. Understand that you add value to any space that you are in and this world, our future generations, and communities need us. Find the resources that you need, build the networks and connections that will support you unconditionally. It is okay to ask for help and research opportunities that will launch you toward fulfilling your dreams! 

 

Brenda Helmbrecht

Brenda Helmbrecht

English Department, Professor
Contact Brenda Helmbrecht

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Be kind and patient with yourself. It will take time to find your strengths and talents as you navigate a system and culture very different from what you have experienced before. 

 

Dawn Janke Photo Coming Soon

Dawn Janke

Office of Writing and Learning Initiatives and English Department, Lecturer
Contact Dawn Janke

Degree(s) Earned

Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership with a concentration in higher education writing program administration.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

You belong here — don't ever doubt that!

 

Liz Johnston

Liz Johnston

Social Sciences Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Liz Johnston

Degree(s) Earned

First in family to go to and graduate college.

 

Leah Katona picture coming soon

Leah Katona

Communication Studies Department, Lecturer
Contact Leah Katona

Degree(s) Earned

M.A. in Communication Studies. First in family to go to and graduate college.

 

Lisa Kawamura

Lisa Kawamura

Communication Studies, Lecturer
Contact Lisa Kawamura

Degree(s) Earned

B.A. and M.A. in Communication Studies. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

It is worth the hard work.   

 

David Kirby

David Kirby

Interdisciplinary Studies Department, Professor
Contact David Kirby

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Molecular Evolutionary Genetics who now studies entertainment and science communication. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Be aware that imposter syndrome is significantly amplified for a first-generation student. Since no one in your family has been to college before you are constantly questioning whether you deserve to be here.   

 

Laura Kramer

Laura Kramer

Music Department, Lecturer
Contact Laura Kramer

Degree(s) Earned

Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition, with concentrations in analysis, saxophone, and electroacoustic media. First in family to go to and graduate college. 

 

Patrikya Kuznetsoff

Patrikya Kuznetsoff

English Department, Lecturer
Contact Patrikya Kuznetsoff

Degree(s) Earned

M.S. English Education. First in family to graduate college. 

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Use every resource available to you! 

 

Gary Laver

Gary Laver

Psychology and Child Development Department, Professor
Contact Gary Laver

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Go to class — Do your homework — Get your sleep.  

 

Anika Leithner

Anika Leithner

Political Science Department, Professor
Contact Anika Leithner

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Political Science (specialty in global politics and political communications). First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Most importantly, remember that you belong here and you CAN do this! Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Try to connect with your professors early and often. In addition to faculty, department staff are among the greatest resources in helping you navigate the logistics of college.  

 

Susana Lopez

Susana A. Lopez

Psychology and Child Development Department, Lecturer
Contact Susana A. Lopez

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with specialty in children and multicultural topics. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Be very proud of yourself. Getting to this point has probably not been easy. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve your dreams. It is possible. Seek those opportunities, connect with others and keep being kind to yourself.  

 

Enrica Lovaglio Costello

Enrica Lovaglio Costello

Art and Design Department, Associate Professor
Contact Enrica Lovaglio Costello

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. candidate (ABD), Master's in Media Arts in U.S. plus Master in Architecture in Italy. First in family to go to college.  

 

Photo of Shanae Martinez Coming Soon!

Shanae Aurora Martinez

English Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Shanae Martinez

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Theory with specialty in indigenous literatures. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

You belong here; take up space.

 

Allison Myers

Allison Myers

Art and Design Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Allison Myers

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Art History with specialty in modern and contemporary art. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Going to professors' office hours can be intimidating, but the more you do it, the more you'll get out of your classes and the more you'll feel connected to the university. For me at least, asking for help turned out to be a skill I had to learn. I'd often write out a list of things I wanted to talk about beforehand so I'd have something to refer to when I felt nervous.  

 

Michael Park

Michael Park

Journalism Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Michael Park

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. Communication and J.D. Law; area: Media Law. First in family to graduate college. 

 

Nathan Perry

Nathan Perry

History Department, Lecturer
Contact Nathan Perry

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in History. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Follow the course of study that feels right and is of most interest to you. 

 

Elvira Pulitano

Elvira Pulitano

Ethnic Studies Department, Professor
Contact Elvira Pulitano

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. English. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Be proud of your roots and do not be afraid to aim high.

 

Donald Ryujin

Donald Ryujin

Psychology and Child Development Department
Contact Donald Ryujin

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Personality and Social Psychology. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Join a group, make friends and find a faculty member to help and advocate for you.  

 

Jesús Serrano-Careaga

Jesús Serrano-Careaga

Psychology and Child Development Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Jesús Serrano-Careaga

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Social Psychology, intergroup relations. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Practice asking questions in as many different settings as possible. Push yourself to ask questions in big classes, small classes, in private with professors, at conferences, etc. If you are given the opportunity to ask a question, take it. Ask all types of questions; those that you think are profound and beautifully worded and those that you think might be 'stupid questions.' Each time you ask a question, imagine that you are working out your 'question' muscle. The more you do it, the better you will get at it, and the more you will learn. At first, you might feel self-conscious, but you will soon stop caring about how other people might evaluate your questions. In the end, you'll realize that being willing to ask questions will make you more successful. 

 

Amber Williams

Amber Williams

Psychology and Child Development Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Amber Williams

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Psychology with specialty in developmental science. First in family to graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

If you are struggling with coursework, it is not just okay, but great to go to office hours! It took me a while to realize this, so I hope I can save you time. Remember that faculty office hours are there for YOU. Even if you're not struggling, don't be afraid to visit your professors and chat about your goals and experiences. Building those relationships will be helpful for obtaining quality mentorship and reference letters in the future. My undergraduate mentor continues to be one of my mentors to this day. 

 

Hocheol Yang

Hocheol Yang

Graphic Communication Department, Assistant Professor
Contact Hocheol Yang

Degree(s) Earned

Ph.D. in Media and Communication. First in family to go to and graduate college.

What advice would you share with our first-generation college students? 

Don't hesitate to contact faculty mentors. 

 

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