First-Gen Global Campus Cougs Share their Stories

By Jeff Willadsen, Global Campus Senior Writer

Today, WSU Global Campus is recognizing the inspiring stories of first-generation college students on National First-Generation Student Celebration Day.

First-generation college students make up a large percentage of the WSU Global Campus Student population, with 29% bearing this distinction.

“First-gen students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, and many have faced significant challenges on their academic journeys,” said Global Campus Chancellor Dave Cillay. “All of these students have a unique story to tell.”

Stefanie Armenta

Stefanie Armenta, originally from Mexico, never thought that she would have the opportunity to improve her life through higher education.

“I migrated to the states when I was just a child. My parents got separated during the trip and my mother and I had to find shelter until my father was able to find us again,” she said. “After I became a citizen, I knew that I wanted to help others in similar situations. I felt in my heart that WSU Global Campus would be a great resource to help me achieve that goal.”

Armenta is now preparing to graduate in December 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. She plans to use her degree to start a career in community advocacy, helping undocumented people and others achieve their dreams.

“My family has been my rock through it all. My husband and children have given me the courage and strength to carry on in this journey,” said Armenta. “They have been my reason for wanting to achieve a higher education, for them and for myself. I’m very grateful to my parents as well for making the sacrifice and moving here in order to give us a better life and opportunities.”

Joseph Mello

Joseph Mello, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in criminal justice though WSU Global Campus, was also the first in his family to attend college.

“Being a first-gen student for me carries a lot of responsibility. I now set the standard for the generations in my family to follow,” he said. “I serve as a role model and inspiration for my family members, and I take that very seriously.”

Mello, who currently works as an officer in the Kent Police Department, plans to use his degree to expand his career in law enforcement and inspire those around him to boost their own careers through higher education.

 “It was difficult to manage classes, raise a family, and work a fulltime stressful job in law enforcement.” But, Mello says, he achieved success through the support of his wife of 30 years, Delores, and through mutual support and camaraderie with other students.

“I wish I would have known how truly special WSU was before attending,” he said. “Becoming part of the WSU family has been a great accomplishment in my life, and I love shouting, ‘Go Cougs!’ when I see another Coug.”

Joy Thompson

Joy Thompson, also a first-generation student, works as a student services manager for WSU Global Campus. It’s her passion to help Global Campus students, including those who share her first-gen experience, achieve their academic goals.

“I grew up travelling the country, and I always knew that I wanted to attend college,” she said. “I loved school and was motivated to succeed. I also had many great faculty members that helped me explore and grow through the challenges of college.”

Though she didn’t originally plan it, her career eventually led her to WSU Global Campus and academic advising. It’s her wish that her experiences as a first-gen student can help other students achieve their own goals.

“I would tell first-gen students today to not be afraid to reach out early on regarding their future. Ask lots of questions on how to get there,” said Thompson. “There are a lot of things you don’t know that you don’t know. Looking back on my own experience, I wish I had reached out for help more often.”

Mello also had words of encouragement for fellow first-gen students.

“If I could, I would tell my younger self, or first-gen students like me, ‘Take the challenge and go to college. Life favors the prepared and nothing prepares you for life better than college!’,” he said.

“I would tell other first-gen students that the work they are doing now will be forever embraced by those around them,” said Armenta. “They are setting the stage for future generations to reach their dreams. Never give up and continue to dream big, because if you can dream it, you can achieve it.”

Other Global Campus first-gen students have been recognized in an article published on the WSU Insider.

“It’s important to recognize and celebrate these students for their incredible tenacity, resilience, and passion for learning, as well as for their countless positive contributions to WSU Global Campus,” said Cillay. “They are an inspiration to us all.”