From First-Generation College Student to Ed.D. – Failure Was Not an Option
My story begins in the backwoods of a rural town in Grenada, Mississippi. Opportunities for me there were so limited that I knew I had to “break the glass ceiling” to make a better life for myself. So, I became the first in my family to graduate from high school and the first to attend college. Eventually, I earned a doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis on higher education. As a first generation college student, failure was not an option.
My journey was not without struggle and hardship, but my faith, family, and mentors formed the backbone of my success. During my college days, I worked two jobs, attended classes, and was a wife and mom. Financial aid was a big part of my life. I depended on it, especially because I was paying out-of-state tuition fees. I leaned on my college EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs and Services) counselor to help me sign up for the right classes. I took summer and winter classes to get ahead. I failed classes, but repeated them as quickly as I failed them because I knew failure was not an option. Math was my biggest challenge, and there was one English class I failed twice with the same teacher, so I took it for the third time with a new teacher and earned a “B.” I will never forget the day I was so overwhelmed with studying and finals that I wanted to quit. I called my mom and asked, “Mom, can I quit and come home?” She quickly said, “No, you can do it.” I couldn’t have made it without my mom and dad. They fueled this “internal drive” in me. I knew I could not let them down.
Dr. Marguerite Williams
“I firmly believe first-generation college students need a great deal of support, including mentoring, which I know firsthand is invaluable for them.”
Marguerite Williams, Ed.D.
Director of Linked Learning for LAUSD
Going to college was a great experience, and earning a college degree means a great deal to me, as an African-American female from Mississippi. I see myself as a life-long learner, so I did not just stop at my bachelor’s degree. I was drawn to learn more and went on to obtain a master’s degree in multicultural education from California State University, Dominguez Hills. With my master’s degree, as an adjunct professor teaching in the master’s degree program at National University in San Diego, I was able to impact the lives of aspiring teachers. In addition to earning my doctorate in 2013, I have held administrative roles with the San Bernardino City Unified School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), working as vice principal, principal and central office administrator. I have been fortunate enough to supervise and coach principals in my role as a director for the LAUSD.
Due to my personal experiences, I was inspired to start a small business that focuses on helping first-generation students, just like me. In my spare time, I partner with families of disadvantaged, underserved, and underrepresented minorities to provide coaching, mentoring, and academic resources, so students are college and career ready. I want students to know that regardless of their neighborhood, parents’ background, or social status, they can go to college and pursue whatever dream they envision for themselves.
I firmly believe first-generation college students need a great deal of support, including mentoring, which I know firsthand is invaluable for them. Here are the key things I learned from my college experiences that would be helpful for any first-time college student to know:
- Connect with an EOPS or college counselor.
- Take advantage of the writing and math tutoring labs on campus.
- Find a buddy/partner in every class and join study groups.
- Be organized and take good notes in every class. Use a tape recorder, if needed (with permission from the instructor).
- Meet with an academic counselor regularly and stay on track with your college plan.
Dr. Marguerite Williams is the director of Linked Learning for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has 19 years of experience as a teacher, vice principal, principal, and director working in large urban school districts serving minority and low socio-economic students. Dr. Williams believes the most important path to preparing students for college and career readiness is a highly effective teacher in every classroom, every day, supported by highly effective school leaders.