Graduating First-Generation economics students Andre Fisher (B.A.), Natalie Staudacher (B.A.), and Josh Stewart (B.S.) were all drawn to U-M by its stellar reputation and the opportunities it promised. Though coming from different backgrounds with their own unique experiences, they were each able to pursue their interests and find support in a variety of ways.

"By attending the U of M, I definitely feel that I have unlocked great potential within and for myself through the interactions that I have had since my first day here. The level of networking that I have been able to achieve through attending the University of Michigan is something I deem incomparable. " -Andre Fisher

Andre, having immigrated to Michigan in 2011 from Kingston, Jamaica, where many are not able to attend university, has viewed his privilege to attend college (especially one as reputable as U-M) a blessing. With this perspective, Andre finds motivation to take advantage of and honor these blessings he knows many others will not receive. Andre's resolve is further bolstered by his close relationship with his nephew for whom he has aimed to set an example during his time at college, as well as an onus to provide a path towards new prosperity and academic opportunity for his family.

Josh was likewise driven by his background to pursue an education in order to obtain financial independence and security. Raised in Michigan, Josh spent much of his high school years at-risk of homelessness with his working-class family. Living out of motel rooms, Josh saw others getting into colleges and realized that they were entering a pivotal stage of life filled with opportunities for growth and if he didn't follow suit, he could be left behind. With the support and example of his (at the time) girlfriend’s family, Josh was able to find stability and develop a strong worth ethnic, and so, after receiving encouragement from a close friend, Josh began taking classes at Oakland Community College and redeveloped a love for learning and found his stride.

"Everyone at U-M is so helpful and wants to see you succeed. There's also the possibility to pursue any interest you have because there is always so much going on around campus." -Natalie Staudacher

As a high school student, Natalie took advantage of a dual enrollment program which allowed her to take college classes and graduate with an associate's degree. The flexible schedule of this program made it possible for Natalie to work on over ten political campaigns, allowing her to save money for college and develop an appreciation for the value of serving others. Natalie always knew she would need to attend college in order to pursue her interests in political science and astronomy. Having had so many great mentors going up, Natalie is motivated by her curiosity and aspires to help others in any capacity she can.

Both Andre and Josh discovered their interests in economics while taking classes at local community colleges (Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Oakland Community College, respectively) before transferring to UM--Andre, appreciating the insights it provided to his real-world experiences and observations; and Josh, drawn to the manifestation of human behavior and the way almost any interaction could be modeled mathematically. Natalie took a different route to the field: originally passionate about STEM policy, Natalie intend to focus her studies on astronomy and political science. However after realizing how influential economics was to the failure or success of proposed policies and bills, she decided to switch to economics.

Despite these graduates having been ultimately successful in completing their degrees, their time at U-M was not without adversity--both as first generation students and personally. Some manifestation of impostor syndrome was experienced by all three. Surrounded by peers from more privileged backgrounds who, as Natalie points out, had been exposed early on to things such as basic finance information and investments through their parents and had been following stocks for years, it's understandable that these first generation students could feel out of place or inadequate. While this may have held them back in some ways--such as connecting with their peers socially--it also motivated them to push harder: focusing on why they were there and what they aimed to achieve. For Natalie, it also helped that her economics professors structured their classes so those without prior knowledge of a topic were not at a disadvantage. 

"The friendships and connections I've made with fellow students [is what I've gained most from coming to U-M]. There is such a diverse array of characters from so many walks of life with different perspectives and motivations ... I look forward to [having the] financial freedom and ability to travel to take advantage of the world and learn as much as I can through cultural exploration." -Josh Stewart

Josh, in particular, faced hardships few experience so early in life: the loss of his father and uncle within a day of each other during his Fall 2017 semester. Facing the grief and subsequent increased financial pressure, Josh took a week off from school to process his emotions and steel his resolve to succeed at U-M. Knowing if his father were still there he'd accept no excuses or falling apart, Josh took it upon himself to become his own motivator and came back to school feeling more secure and confident in himself than ever before. Graduating for Josh is his proudest accomplishment thus far, providing him a solid foundation and ample opportunity to provide for himself and his family.

Finding strength in each of their own ways—Josh through the memory of his father, Andre through his mother’s counsel, and Natalie through the unwavering support of her sister—these three graduates have done more than just become the first in their families to graduate college; they’ve also found ways to make a difference and take advantage of the myriad of opportunities available to them during their time here at U-M. Josh co-founded the Phi Beta Lambda, a business fraternity; pursued his love for computer science by declaring the minor; and participated in the Michigan Economics Society, an undergraduate club focused on providing professional development opportunities to students interested in economics. Natalie contributed to important heliophysics research regarding Mercury’s magnetosphere during all four years at U-M and participated in political campaigns. And Andre participated in CEAL, a Student Advisory Group on Engagement, and worked with the MyVoice Project as a research assistant as well as with the University Career Center as a Career Peer Advisor. All three exemplify the Michigan Difference: that, so long as you’re passionate about something and willing to put in the time, anything is possible at U-M.

Looking forward, while Josh and Andre are both interested in pursuing MBA's, Josh is also interested in a master's in Data Science, and Andre is considering a master's in Health Management and Policy, as well. Both have jobs lined up after graduation: Josh, having graduated in December, is currently working at Oracle as a Business Intelligence & Analytics Consultant, and Andre will start with Willis Towers Watson shortly after graduating. Natalie has no current plans to pursue graduate work, but intends to join an early-stage startup in the Bay Area as its 15th employee. "This might be a risky move," she says, "but if I've learned one thing from Professor Brown's Personnel Economics class, it's better to be risk tolerant early in your career!"

To other First-Generation students just starting out in their undergraduate career, these graduates would above all remind you of this: U-M doesn't admit just anyone; remember you have worked incredibly hard to get here, you belong here, and you are not alone. Make friends and don't be ashamed to ask or look for help, it’s there for a reason. Lastly, don't be ashamed of where you started, it makes for an interesting story.