Being your own person
Kendra Hentschel’s experience as a first-generation college student began with the love and support of her parents, both of whom were born and raised in Michigan and who shared their love of learning with her.
“We would play school when we got home from school. We would have math workbooks and English workbooks and that’s what we thought was fun,” she recalls. Her parents never wavered on the question of their children’s education. “I don’t think there was ever a moment of indecision [about going to college],” she adds. “It was something my parents just stressed to us as being expected.”
In addition to her parents’ expectations, Kendra pushed herself to maintain a 4.0 grade point average and graduated at the top of her high school class.
Kendra found one high school counselor who was extremely supportive but had competing priorities that did not provide much time for personal college advising. Kendra was passionate about learning, and although she did ultimately arrive at the University of Michigan, she often wonders where she might have gone if she had had more information, knowledge, and resources about the process of applying and preparing for higher education, particularly out-of-state institutions.
Like most college students, Kendra tried to find a “home” on campus. “After my first year here I could finally stand on my feet and be my own person,” she says. She became actively involved on campus in an arts advocacy-social justice student organization called F.O.K.U.S. (Fighting Obstacles Knowing Ultimate Success), and worked part time at U-M’s Center for the Education of Women—both of which were transformative experiences that created a sense of home for her here, helped her stay motivated, and helped her learn and explore different parts of herself, others, and the world.
“I was really not aware [that I was a first gen] until my sophomore year, when I started getting into deeper conversations with new friends, and hearing about their process of coming to school.”
Kendra was not aware of her identity as a first-generation college student until she met other first-gen peers and began to talk about it with them. “I really was not aware [that I was a first gen] until my sophomore year, when I started getting into deeper conversations with new friends, and hearing about their process of coming to school,” she recalls. While they weren’t necessarily “labeled” as first-gens, it was helpful to talk with others who were going through the same or similar experiences.
As she learned about the perspectives and experiences of other first-generation college students, Kendra understood the uniqueness of her experience. That realization led her to explore her identity further with her peers and her sisters. Now a U-M alumna, she continues to own this identity and to figure out what it really means for her. As a U-M staff member, she has become more actively involved in the first-gen experience on campus. She hopes others will see her story and reach out for assistance, mentorship, or just to connect.