Academics and Research

DU offers first-generation student a path to success

Private colleges may seem like daunting institutions with unattainable standards and a price tag that is too large to even consider for most students. But, according to research done by the Council of Independent Colleges, a higher proportion of first-generation and low-income students enroll at private colleges than at public universities. Additionally, more of these students graduate without debt than their counterparts at public universities. Kyle Giacomino, a first-generation student at the University of Denver who is double majoring in English and communications, is one such student.

Q: You’re a first-generation college student. What has this meant to you and your family?

A: My thoughts about college have been interesting because I’m a first-generation student, yet my parents have been very successful. My father started a company that makes products to extract natural gas from the ground. He built this business without a college education, and it is incredibly strong. So I’ve seen what hard work can do, but my father always pushed me to get into college and study my passion. I don’t think that there was ever a question that I wouldn’t go to college, because my father still believes that college gives me the best opportunity to succeed.


Q: What has been your biggest challenge in college so far?

A: Honestly, my biggest challenge when entering college was just finding my way. I was good at a little bit of everything in high school — except for math — and I didn’t really have any passions that I could follow. So finding out what I wanted to major in and do with the rest of my life was a struggle that weighed on my mind a lot. Eventually I enrolled in DU’s business school because my father was a businessman. But I didn’t really have a passion for it. Then spring quarter rolled around, and I took a required English class. It was in this class that I realized that I have a passion for writing about things that I care about, and I love reading more than anything else. So I decided to become an English major. In my sophomore year, I took a popular culture class and I really enjoyed learning about how social media affects us and how there are so many different ways to see the world. So I made the decision to pick up communications as a major as well. It took me a while, but I eventually found the things that I have a passion for, and now I wake up excited to go to class every day.


Q: What has been your biggest success so far?

A: I think studying abroad has been my proudest achievement so far in my life. I got into DU without much knowledge of the world outside of Colorado. But going abroad changed all of that. I studied at the Queen Mary University of London, and once I got there, everything changed. I found myself alone in one of the biggest cities in the world, and I had to navigate it without anyone holding my hand. I had to do this with a few other places, like Paris and Dublin, as well. The whole experience really brought me out of my shell, and I realized that if I can do something like that, then I can do pretty much anything.


Q: What has the social and academic transition been like in college, coming from high school?

A: It has been difficult. In high school, everything is made easy for you because you have counselors that track your progress for you. They also set up a plan with you so that you can succeed. People can also do this in college, but it isn’t automatic like it was in high school, and it’s not very well advertised either. I certainly didn’t know about it when I first got to DU, and I just thought that I had to do everything on my own. Academically, things are a little different. The biggest transition is definitely the fact that professors won’t come to you if you’re struggling. You have to go to them and talk about what you don’t know. College is also mainly a lot of reading and then a lot of big projects, which took time to get used to. As for the social aspect, I didn’t really have a problem with it because I joined a fraternity the fall quarter of my freshman year. So I’ve had a great group of friends to hang out with, and they’ve really helped me figure things out.


Q: Why did you choose to attend a private college as opposed to a public one?

A: At first I didn’t even know the University of Denver existed, because I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone there. But when I started looking at colleges in Colorado, the name popped up. I decided to take a campus tour and immediately fell in love with it. It didn’t have all the hustle and bustle and confusion that comes with a larger university, and the campus was incredibly beautiful. It’s been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made. It’s a completely different experience than if I had gone to a large university. I’ve only had one lecture with more than 50 students. The rest of the time, the classes consist of about 20 students. The professors are really accessible and willing to meet if I have any questions or if I just want to discuss something in greater detail. I can also walk through campus and recognize almost all the faces, which I think is something that is really unique and makes me feel at home.


Q: What advice do you have for first-generation students looking to enroll in private universities?

A: My advice is to seriously consider it. I understand that many people struggle with the idea of the expense. But I definitely think it’s worth it. The class sizes are smaller, you’ll know more people on campus, and it just feels like a more intimate learning experience. I have a more in-depth education because I get so much one-on-one time with professors and classmates. Keep in mind that the sticker price usually isn’t what you’ll pay. In fact, the average student financial aid package is worth around $35,000. I also don’t know anyone, including myself, that didn’t receive some kind of scholarship to attend DU. I personally received a scholarship that pays for almost 30 percent of my tuition, and I even have a few friends that were offered full-ride scholarships. So it’s definitely possible to do in a financial sense, and I think that the benefits outweigh the costs.


Q: What do you plan on doing after you graduate?

A: When I graduate I’ll have a degree in English and communications with a minor in business, so my future is pretty open. My plan is to network and intern as much as I can to experience different fields of work and see which ones I like more, although I already have a pretty good idea because through everything, writing has been my one constant passion. My dream job would be a book editor or a writer.


Q: What is your greatest motivator for success?

A: My motivation is two-fold. The first is this really funny idea that I have in my head that I want to be a great writer one day. I think that all English majors have the goal to write something significant and profound just like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Woolf or King. I would personally like to write something more like science fiction, so I look up to authors like Vonnegut or Heinlein. Either way, one of my greatest motivators is to try to write something that one of these authors would be proud of. My other motivator is slightly humbler. I recognize the fact that I’m receiving this great education and I have an opportunity that a lot of people in the world don’t. I believe that it shouldn’t be like that, though, and I would like to use the skills that I receive in college to change things and make a difference in the world.


Carol Carter is the founder of GlobalMindED, a conference that brings first-generation college students together with educators, industry professionals, global entrepreneurs, policy makers and the nonprofit sector to promote access and opportunity for college and workplace success.

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