Shannon Kucaj

Shannon Kucaj

Shannon Kucaj is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Creative Writing, with a minor in psychology. Kucaj said that her love of writing came from an early age and that she used it as a means to express herself. 

"I gravitated towards poetry when I was younger because it helped me express my feelings a little bit because I had struggled with different anxieties," said Kucaj. "I was able to put those into words better in the form of poetry."

Beyond academics, Kucaj also works for the Office of Student Employment as a communications intern and is about to start working at the University Writing Center as a consultant. On campus, Kucaj is involved with the ALDPES honor society as the webmaster/secretary, while also being a peer mentor for the School of Liberal Arts. She said she is "quite busy." 

Kucaj said that she always knew that she was going to go to college, prioritizing school her entire life and eventually becoming her school’s salutatorian. Kucaj said that she did not know she was a first-generation student until she got to college and someone told her that she was.  

"Now it's [being a first-gen student] become something that I love to talk about because there's been a lot of challenges with being a first-generation student," said Kucaj. "I really like to let people know that we're out there, and we're here to help too, others that have gone through it."

Kucaj emphasized the importance of finding a support system and credits the Office of Student Employment as being hers. 

"The people at OSE have really helped me grow, professionally and academically; they've always been there for me," said Kucaj. "I would say them collective as a whole have really just been my motivation, and let me know like, 'You're doing great,' and giving me that motivation."

After graduating, Kucaj said that she would love to work as an editor for a publishing company and eventually be a writer herself one day.

It's become something that I love to talk about because there's been a lot of challenges with being a first-generation student.

Shannon Kucaj
MaKayla Picklesimer

MaKayla Picklesimer

MaKayla Picklesimer is a master's student in the Fairbanks School of Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology. She also finished her undergrad at IUPUI in psychology with a minor in neuroscience in 2016.  

Picklesimer said that, from a young age, her parents stressed to her how important it was that she go to college.  

"It was kind of drilled into me early on that that was something I needed to do, but never really why it was important or what it would do for me, or what happens after that," said Picklesimer. "It was just, you have to do it, you have to do that." 

During her sophomore year, Picklesimer’s life changed when she found out she was pregnant. She then transferred to IUPUI since her previous institution lacked the schedule flexibility she needed to complete her degree. 

Picklesimer said that while it was difficult being a first-generation student who did not really know how to navigate college while also being a new parent, she was able to graduate the year she was originally supposed to.  

"My son was able to be at graduation," said Picklesimer. "It was just such an experience being the first one in my family and sort of having those extra barriers. . . . it was really meaningful."

Aside from completing her graduate coursework, with her son watching her Zoom classes, Picklesimer is a full-time research specialist in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences. 

Picklesimer is also part of UPnGO and, within that, a graduate parent network. However, Picklesimer hopes that one day there is a similar group for undergraduate students as well.  

"We're working on sort of building our own little organization of supportive parents. . . . my hope is that I can kind of spearhead that branching out into undergraduate students because right now it's the graduate student organization," said Picklesimer.  

So just even going to school, my entire community is proud. It's not just even my immediate family. It's me showing little girls and boys that regardless of where you're from, you can just be whatever you want to be, even going to college.

Isheka Orr
Rebekah Roll

Rebekah Roll

Rebekah Roll is a fourth-year medical student who will graduate in May. She also completed her undergraduate coursework at IUPUI.  

Roll, whose parents and older siblings did not attend college, said that she did not embrace her first-generation identity until later in her undergraduate career because she did not know what it meant to be a first-generation student.

Roll now embraces her first-generation identity and would like to see the conversations surrounding first-generation students reframed.

"I think they're [conversations] focused on being almost as we succeed in spite of being first-gen, and I don't like to frame it that way," said Roll. "I like to frame it as we succeed because we are first-gen."

Roll went on to say that the unique experiences of first-generation students make them particularly qualified to succeed.  

"We're motivated, we recognize the vulnerability we have to show in asking for help," said Roll, ". . . I like to think of us as trailblazers, and we've already taken this one big step, and it's kind of well, if I can do that, what can't I do?" 

Roll also stressed the importance of mentors for all students, but especially first-generation students. Roll credits past professors Dr. Kathy Marrs and Dr. Bethany Neal-Beliveau as mentors who helped her develop professionally.  

"I think definitely without them behind me and telling me that, 'these are all the opportunities that you have and you would fit perfectly in each and every one of them,' I wouldn't have been able to develop as much as I did without them in my ear supporting me along the way," said Roll.  

Roll said that if she could give one piece of advice to other first-generation students, it would be to embrace their identity as a strength.  

"I think it's well worth your time and self-love and self-advocacy to step back and think of it more as a strength," said Roll, "I think that says something a lot about your braveness and your motivation and your work ethic."

I am building the bridge. So all of the next generations will be in college.

Khadijah Sulail

Khadijah Sulail

Khadijah Sulail is a senior and a biomedical engineering major at IUPUI. Sulail, beyond being a first-generation student, is an international student from Saudi Arabia.  

Sulail said that she did not think of going to college as a child. However, once she got a little older, she became determined to attend college 

"When I started high school, I was dreaming of going to college and studying abroad. I am not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. student; I am an international student," said Sulail. "So I worked hard to get a scholarship and to come here to the U.S." 

Sulail said that some of the obstacles she has had to face have motivated her throughout her time at IUPUI.  

"Being an international student motivates me to work hard because I'm studying in my second language, not in my first language," said Sulail. "I feel like this has motivated me because I feel like I overcome the difficulty of studying my second language because most people didn't have a second language."

Sulail also said that once IUPUI transitioned to online instruction, the eight-hour time difference was a hurdle that she had to overcome.  

With the challenges Sulail has faced, she said that she feels proud of herself and the role that she sees herself currently in.  

"I am building the bridge," said Sulail. "So all of the next generations will be in college."

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