Feature Story

‘Put Yourself Out There’

April 18, 2017 – by Katie Kuckelheim ’19

First-Generation Experience Panel participants Jim Mendenhall (left), Katie Butt, Paul Dean, and James Huddleston share experiences with current Ohio Wesleyan students. (Photo by Katie Kuckelheim ’19)

First-Generation Graduates Encourage OWU Students

“Successes come in cans, not can’ts,” says Jim Mendenhall ’73, a first-generation graduate from Ohio Wesleyan University.

He was one of four panelists sharing advice at a recent First-Generation Experience Panel sponsored by OWU’s Connect2Complete Resource and Career Services offices. The group discussed obstacles for first-gen students, including challenging academics, personal identity, and family and community expectations.

Mendenhall recounted his struggles with navigating college life, including meeting a professor who questioned whether he was OWU material. Mendenhall’s response was: “Don’t tell me I can’t do it.” Four years later, Mendenhall walked across the steps in front of Phillips Hall, the first in his family to graduate from college.

He also discussed transitioning into the work force, which he said can require graduates to “be a chameleon” to fit into their new environment.

James Huddleston ’15 shared an experience when his grades slipped one semester, and he was told he may not make it through college.

“That put fuel in my fire,” Huddleston said. After the encounter, he found people in the House of Black Culture who pushed him academically, and he made the Dean’s List the next semester. Now, Huddleston coaches football at Otterbein University.

Katie Butt ’14 also recounted her struggles as a first-gen student. “I had a lot of cheerleaders at home, but they didn’t know how to help me.”

Butt said she found resources at OWU to help her. She also joined the Student Union on Black Awareness and Kappa Kappa Gamma, both of which expanded her mind. She now works in the alumni relations office at the Columbus College of Art & Design.

Faculty member Paul Dean, assistant professor of sociology-anthropology, is also a first-gen graduate who struggled when he was an undergraduate at Jamestown Community College.

“I felt like I had to work two to three times more than anyone else,” Dean said.

He now encourages first-gen students to get involved on campus and take advantage of travel opportunities such as Theory-to-Practice Grants.

The panel impressed upon the first-gen students to engage in the college experience and have confidence.

“Put yourself out there,” Dean said, “and don’t be self-conscious.”