First Generation To College

By WGBH News


Oct. 14, 2011


Campuses like this can still seem more a dream than a concrete goal for young people whose parents have not gone to college. (carmichaellibrary/Flickr)

BOSTON — Once reserved for the elite, college now seems like an ordinary rite of passage for many — and one that looks more and more important to ensure financial security in adulthood. But enrollment lags for minorities, low-income, and people whose parents didn’t go to college themselves.
William "Mo" Cowan, Rev. Michael Melendez and Carmen Ortiz know what that’s like. They were the first in their families to pursue higher education. Now, the local organization ACCESS has honored them with 2011 ACCESS First One Awards, tapping them and other prominent Bostonians to be role models for first-generation college-goers.
They spoke with WGBH’s Callie Crossley on Wednesday about their experiences.

Rev. Michael Melendez 

The adults in Rev. Michael Melendez’ life pointed him towards the military or trade jobs. But he was determined to go to college, and told his father he'd find his own way to pay for it. And he did: Melendez became an ordained minister and directs the Master of Social Work program at Simmons College.

William "Mo" Cowan
Cowan said his mother pushed him “to continue to strive and look beyond our current situation and circumstances." “I came to understand there was this whole range of possibilities… if you could manage to get to and through college.” He is now Gov. Deval Patrick’s Chief of Staff.

Carmen Ortiz
Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, decided to become a lawyer while she was still in high school. “I focused and I looked for opportunities that were out there,” Ortiz said. She urged first-generation college students to reach out. “Really seek support. Surround yourself with support.”  

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