Nowadays it is very common and encouraged for students to attend college, but those who are the first in their family to go to higher education face unique challenges that others may not.
These new experiences are uncharted territory for first generationers meaning, there isn’t an exact roadmap for success–like any other student. Navigating it can be difficult, but success can result from the opportunity to explore different aspects of college.
An example of an individual that has to juggle these types of obstacles is Griffin Puls, a third-year Forestry Engineering student at Oregon State University. He is from Junction City, Ore. and went to Marist Catholic High School in Eugene. Puls grew up with five siblings and two cousins that raised them and has lived in that area for a majority of his life. He said that it is a small private town.
“We went to church there so we knew a lot of the people in the town,” Puls said. “I think there’s only like 6,000 people that live there and it's pretty much just an agriculture town, most of it revolved around [the] farming and timber industry.”
Puls received a scholarship with the Ford Family Foundation, which supports his studies at OSU. He said that this financial award is the reason that he is currently attending school.
“They completely changed my life path by offering me a chance at a college education,” Puls said. “The Ford scholarship pays for 90% of unmet funds for tuition as well as room and board. Their scholarship allows me to focus on my education without worry of not being able to make rent and tuition.”
Because of the scholarship, Puls is able to get the most out of his education and he was even able to buy a laptop for school with their help.
Being put in the position as the first in your family to get a higher education must be a daunting yet rewarding experience, which it is in his case. Puls said that it is a weird aspect to be a first-generation student. His original intentions were to attend a trade school because of how costly a state school is and it just wasn’t an option for him financially.
His family pushed him to do the best he can in high school in order to succeed because they believed that he would be the one to attend college. Being a first-generation student encourages him to earn his degree to show that he can do anything. Puls’ family has a lot of impact on his life and keeps him motivated.
“Four of my five siblings are younger than me,” Puls said. “I feel like my whole life I’ve been pressured to keep the bar pretty high and do the best that I can to hopefully encourage my siblings to do just as good as I do or hopefully better.”
Puls said that having that many siblings really drives him to be the best that he can be. He has an older brother who he looks up to everyday and his family is the biggest reason he is still in college. He knows that he can depend on them to fall back on. The goal to have a better future is another thing that keeps Puls motivated.
“My family is not super educated,” Puls said. “I think this whole opportunity for me to have a college education is pushing me to have a bigger future and to just get more opportunities.”
Puls also said he views the Ford Family Foundation as a second family. They believe in him 100%, which is why they decided to give him the scholarship. He knows that he can talk to one of them if he ever has any struggles.
Although Puls is able to reap the rewards of this financial assistance, there are challenges he also faces. Something that significantly opposes him is his urge to succeed with the feeling of being stuck.
“The biggest challenge for me is the ‘waiting to get my life moving’ mindset,” Puls said. “I see my family making a living from their hard work, while I am sitting in a classroom, or right now my living room. It’s difficult to be patient when I see success around me.”
Overall, Puls expressed that his college experience so far has been fulfilling. His fondest memories as of now include making lots of close friends and attending Beaver games while cheering with thousands of other students.
“College life is unique, but I am very glad and proud to be where I am with the people I have met so far,” Puls said.
To take his mind off school and get out of the house, hobbies that Puls enjoys to do include outdoor activities like fishing and hiking. He also likes woodworking by making things in his garage and hunting during hunting season.
Puls is not completely sure about what he wants to do after college, but he knows that he wants to be involved in the timber industry which is why he is focusing on forest engineering.
“I probably want to travel and get out of Oregon and get some living experience somewhere else,” Puls said. “Get my degree, start a career and then eventually hopefully end up back here in Oregon, probably like southern Oregon and support the community around here.”
There can be many uncertainties when placed in the role of being a first-generation student. Even if there are challenges along the way, those who surround you in your life, such as family and friends, will always be there to support you. This is reflected well by the experiences Griffin Puls has shared about his life and how he has gotten to where he is today.