First Generation Students Celebrated

First Generation Students Celebrated

(Marion) Pat Welch was just seven years old when her father died. Her mother raised five children on the northeast side of Marion with few resources. College wasn’t on Welch’s radar. However, two adult mentors talked to Pat during her senior year at Harding High School and brought her to Marion Tech for a visit.

“People here were really encouraging and helped explain the process. I had an advisor and others who pushed me, encouraged me, and believed in me. They wouldn’t let me give up!” Welch said.

Pat Welch helps a student.

Welch’s mother had no personal experience with college, as she had dropped out of school in the ninth grade. However, she had something more important to offer: support.

“She didn’t know the steps, but she encouraged me!” Welch said. “I was the first one from my immediate family to go to college,” Welch said. “I ended up with two degrees (as a paralegal and in business management.) I came out of my shell.”

Welch has helped thousands of Marion Tech students over more than thirty years of service to the college. She relates to many of them with a strong sense of community despite the challenges they face. Welch cheers on students as they pursue their degrees.

Various student, faculty & staff members stand for a group photo during a First Gen celebration.
All of these are proud First Gen students and alumni, including Dr. Ryan McCall, president; Dr. Bob Haas, Vice President; Rhonda Ward, Chief Financial Officer.

“Being the first in your family to obtain a college education is a big deal and we want to celebrate you and your success!” said Laura Emerick, Executive Director of Student Success and Engagement at Marion Tech.

Marion Tech celebrated First Generation college students, alumni, faculty and staff this November. Behind the photos, food, fun and giveaways are stories of many with the courage to walk into a new environment and open the door to new opportunities.Taylor Merritt wears her cap and gown on graduation day.

Taylor Merritt grew up in Marion County near Morral. She graduated from Ridgedale in 2018.

“It was intimidating coming to college. My parents didn’t know how the process worked. I’m thankful I had a sister who went through it,” Merritt said.

Merritt graduated from Marion Tech with an associate degree in business management. She is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Franklin University through the Marion Tech 3 + 1 program (Three years of classes at Marion Tech and one year through Franklin.)

“I love having more opportunities!” Merritt shared.

Chelsea Glezen, Administrative Assistant at Marion Tech, holds a sign saying she's proud to be a First Gen student means she is a leader for her family and future generations - it can be done!
Chelsea Glezen, First Gen graduate and administrative assistant at Marion Tech.

Sheryl Rossi grew up on the west side of Marion.

“Our generation wasn’t expected to go to college. You were supposed to stop when you got married and started a family. I didn’t do it until my kids were grown. I told my kids they needed to go to college. They said, ‘Why? You didn’t.’ Challenge accepted! I came to college at age 38.”

Sheryl Rossi

Rossi earned an associate degree in information tech from Marion Tech and then a bachelor in business administration from Franklin University with the 3 + 1 program. She and her husband ran their own IT business for many years. Rossi now works at Marion Tech in Admissions.

Amanda Robinson was the first in her family to go to college. She went to the Columbus College of Art and Design for a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Her family told her that when she left for college, she was on her own.

“Being a first-generation college student, even as a very organized student and human, was super confusing, frustrating, and somehow over- and under-whelming at the same time,” Robinson recalled.

At 18, Robinson walked into college life in downtown Columbus with no driver’s license and no support. She juggled full-time classes and up to three jobs at once. Robinson met and married her husband in college. Life became more complicated when she gained custody of her 11-year-old sister. Her grandmother moved in with Robinson and her husband to help out, but ended up needing care during a long illness. She died just a few months before Robinson graduated from college. This was nothing like the movies as she balanced work, college, and family needs.

“I didn’t party. There weren’t student counseling services. Food pantries were super scary. I somehow made too much for food stamps and I was always exhausted. I always felt like I was pushing my way uphill by myself, thankful for the moments that I could sit down and take a break,” Robinson said.

Amanda Robinson smiles at the camera while her young son sits on her shoulders.
Amanda Robinson and her son.

Robinson works at Marion Tech and feels her experience as a first-generation college graduate helps her empathize with students.

“It gives me the opportunity to be the person for some people that I wish I had when I was in college. It is necessary for me to turn around as I am walking out to lunch to help the student walking into the school holding a financial aid paper. It is necessary for me to take the extra time to have the discussion about your mental health. It is necessary for me to education families about how college works. It is necessary for me care about the students at MTC,” Robinson said.

Robinson has some advice for those who are looking to start their college journeys.

“Take time to explore. Explore the college you want to attend and ask all the questions. Explore all your choices for college and higher education. Explore the college you end up attending to see what resources it has for you to succeed. Explore the city, state, and country while you have the time. Explore your job and all of its benefits. Explore the jobs you want after college. Explore what you want, so when you get there, you are ready for what comes next,” Robinson said. “I am still learning to explore.”

Marion Tech also has expanded resources for students dealing with a wide array of challenges, which have only deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Connections Center includes a food pantry as well as a social worker to help them find solutions for problems with transportation, housing, and child care. The Student Assistance Program offers free counseling, financial and legal services. The goal is to help every student succeed.

The new Connections Center includes free snacks and a food pantry.

“I encourage students. You can do it. It doesn’t matter the age. We’ve had graduates who were in their 60s and 70s,” Welch said. “Never give up.”