What It Means to Be the First | Villanova Magazine | Villanova University

What It Means to Be the First

Students, faculty, staff and alumni, including University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 CLAS, shared their experiences as the first in their families to attend college during Villanova’s inaugural First Generation Celebration Week. Here are a few of their stories.


Black-and-white pencil illustration of Villanova School of Business senior Kathy Kalata, female student

Kathy Kalata ’20 VSB

Data Analytics and Management Major with Concentration in Consulting

“My parents were Polish farmers who came to the United States for the opportunity for a better life. Without even a high school degree or a full understanding of English, this was not an easy task. My mom would reiterate to us every morning, ‘God gave you a gift. With this gift, He also has high expectations. You must use this gift He gave you to help others.’ My mother’s motto was the reason behind my application and acceptance to Villanova University. It is my motivation to continue studying and taking advantage of every opportunity Villanova has to offer. Lastly, her words will be my motivation to ‘pay it forward’ and help other students in similar hardships like myself day to day.”

Black-and-white pencil illustration of 2016 Villanova College of Engineering alumnus Boratha Tan

Boratha Tan ’16 COE

Hybrid Systems and Component Engineer, Ford Motor Company

“Being part of the first generation can often mean that you are experiencing many other ‘firsts’ alongside your family. For example, you could help your parents sort through mortgage paperwork to buy your family’s first home. Or, you could be an interpreter for your mother during jury selection. I am the first in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree, but I sure had my share of ‘firsts’ with the rest of my family. For me, being first generation requires a healthy balance of personal growth and a deep love for family. I don't have my degree with me at my home in Detroit—it hangs on the wall in my parents’ home. That's because ‘my’ degree is, in reality, our family’s degree.”

Black-and-white pencil illustration of Villanova Professor of Chemistry Barry Selinsky PhD

Barry Selinsky, PhD

Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, Professor of Chemistry

“My dad was a World War II veteran who planned on attending college using the GI Bill but had to go to work in the coal mines to support his extended family. He and my mom sacrificed to ensure that their four kids all had the opportunity to attend college. We ate a lot of spaghetti and bologna, and my brothers and I caddied and washed dishes at the local country club during the summer months. While it wasn’t easy, all four of us graduated from college and ended up with advanced degrees, including my PhD in Biochemistry. My parents were proud of our accomplishments, and we were privileged to have parents who challenged us to succeed.”

Black-and-white pencil illustration of 1992 Villanova alumna Eloise Berry, Director of Intercultural Affairs

Eloise Berry, PhD, ’92 CLAS

Director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs and Licensed Psychologist

“I grew up in West Philadelphia with two hard-working parents and two siblings. I was fortunate to have had parents who valued education and sacrificed to send me to parochial and private schools, an older brother who earned a college degree and a cohort of friends who were college-bound. As a result of hard work, I was fortunate to have earned a BA, MS and PhD by the age of 28. It was necessary for me to rely on mentors for guidance at each level of education. I am very thankful for having had emotional support from my parents, even if they did not fully understand the magnitude of the tasks I faced.”

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