Sarah is an Advocate
“Would I have gotten to go to college if it wasn’t for Dad’s GI Bill?”
Of course, my mom replied.
But I wasn’t sure how — although my scholarships were more money than I have ever seen in my lifetime, they would have carried me through maybe one semester. My dad’s ticket out of not finishing college - the military - turned into my ticket into college. When I moved onto a campus states away from where my mom and my older brother lived, I found myself comparing myself to others nonstop. Other college students have cars? They have laptops? They don’t work a lot of part-time jobs? They don’t fail courses? At the time, I did not know what First-Gen or low-income meant but I sure knew what these things felt like. Without some of my Dad’s provisions, things probably would have been even harder for me.
Half a decade later, thanks to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, I was able to work towards a PhD — despite not really knowing what that meant as a college senior. It’s not hard for me to see how much of my academic trajectory is an anomaly— my brother, for instance, is facing countless obstacles towards pursuing higher education that has passed me by. Yet to stop short of saying my story represents an exclusive sense of perseverance would be to ignore the plain fact that most of the academy is not built for First-Gen students and those from backgrounds like ours. That these same struggles are compounded for many of our Black colleagues should stop the academy in our tracks. Active-learning (where a course is not 100% lecture and includes student activities) especially in introductory classrooms, has been proven to alleviate many of these discrepancies between racial and economic divides. The teachers I have had who use active learning have changed my life, the lecturers taught courses I no longer remember. This is why I’m so passionate about promoting and assessing active learning in both universities and community colleges — these courses could be the difference between a First-Gen student failing and having their lives changed forever.
As I’ve learned about my mom finishing community college after I was born, I’ve thought about how this felt like a generational accomplishment to her, and likewise my university education feels like a generational accomplishment to me. And my Dad’s military service was a remarkable accomplishment of its own. Everyone does not need higher education to have a life they are proud of. But those who want to go should be supported, regardless of their background. I may not have gotten TO college without the GI Bill, but I wouldn’t have gotten THROUGH college without instructors making the classroom a place for all students.
My name is Sarah Jeanne Adkins-Jablonsky (she/her). I am currently a PhD Candidate in the Biology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.