Representation Matters as a First-Generation College student

Donna and a group of MA in Higher Education Leadership Students

A blog post from SOLES MA in Higher Education Leadership Ambassador Donna Soukantouy

I am a first-generation, Laotian-American college student in the Master’s program of Higher Education Leadership. When I first started out the master’s program in SOLES, I pretty much did not know anyone. Being a year into the program, I now know a lot of amazing and wonderful people. When I started out, I did compare myself to others. Was I good enough? Do I belong here? Was I meant to be in this role? I soon learned that the impostor syndrome that is injected in me is floating around out there. I circled around the crippling belief that my successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill. Do you want to know why? That’s because I do not see anyone like me in this program nor do I see anyone like myself in the roles I want to pursue in the field of higher education leadership.

A photo of Donna at Little in San Diego, CA

The internal battle of beating myself changed when a few cohort mates introduced me to the Assistant Dean of student affairs in Revelle College at UCSD and did her Ph.D. at the University of San Diego in the field of Leadership Studies. Her research is on Asian Pacific Islanders, specifically Filipinx leaders in higher education and career decision-making. Although I do not identify as Filipino, I felt a strong urge to meet her, especially since everyone talks about how wonderful a person she is! I connected with her once to talk about my action research project and I fell in love with her. She was easy to talk to, connect with, and just open up to compare to my supervisors and advisers here on campus.

It wasn’t like they weren’t doing their job and they do help me among many other things. I appreciate and love all my mentors but I began to finally see a higher education professional, adjunct faculty/instructor, coach, and consultant who looked like me! This is so rare because I never have seen anyone like her in my first year of college at a public four-year university, in all my three years at community college, and the last two years at Cal State Channel Islands for my undergrad.

Representation matters. Make friends. Connect. Network. You’ll find the people that will remind you why you are in your program.

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