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First Generation Students, Faculty and Staff


This November, Villanova University is again participating in the national celebration week of first generation students. This event, which coincides with the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, celebrates the contributions and achievements of first generation students at our nations’ universities.  

Since its founding as an institution to educate those who were excluded from traditional universities, to the veterans returning to college after WWII, to the 21st century students looking to start their own family legacies, Villanova has been a place for first generation students to thrive.

The College of Engineering has more than 100 first generation students and dozens of faculty and staff who are first gens as well. A few of them shared with us what it means to them and their families to be the first to attend/graduate from college:


"My biggest life achievement was receiving college acceptances my senior year of high school and realizing that I could beat the statistics against me on being a low-income first generation American and (now!) college student. Knowing that I am making my mother proud is one of the main things that motivates me through tough days at school. It makes me happy to be able to show her that her hard work in raising me is paying off." —Annette Ciecierega ’21 ME

“Being a first generation college student has a lot of challenges but many rewards as well! It helps to have the support of my parents at every step, who I couldn't have done any of this without. They're proud that my future will be filled with more opportunities and options than they had. To other first generation students, I suggest taking advantage of all the resources and guidance offered. There are people everywhere—from faculty and staff to other students—who want you to succeed and will point you in the right direction. Above all, you're a trailblazer in your own right, so don't be afraid to do things your way to make the experience your own!” —Michael Digiacomo ’21 CpE

"Being a first gen has given me a unique opportunity to overcome many different challenges. Through these challenges, I have realized the disparity that exists in the world. My goal is to educate and help people rise above in order to create a better future where more equitable opportunities exist.” —Yeray Lopez ’20 CpE

 “My mother was raised in a very old-fashioned household and was not allowed to attend college when she was younger, so for me it’s about more than just being a first generation college student. It’s about ushering in a new era where a woman in my family can receive higher education and pursue a career in a field that is typically thought of as ‘man’s work.’”—Alexa Panuccio ’22 CpE

“Behind every first generation college student is somebody constantly encouraging them to continue and push through obstacles and challenges. That person, for me, is my mom. She never had the chance to go to college and always reminds me to never take my opportunity for granted. I’m proud to be here at Villanova representing everything my mom had sacrificed in the hopes of a better future for my family.” —Abbey Thompson ’22 CpE

"My degree is not only mine, it is my family's as well." —Marco Vazquez ’22 ME


"Being one of 8 children born to parents who never even considered college, it was quite the accomplishment for me to attend and graduate from college. My parents were certainly proud of this achievement, though much of the process I navigated on my own. If they were still alive, I’m sure they’d be equally proud that many of their grandchildren have since gone onto college." —Gaye Doyle, Assistant Director, Undergraduate Student Programs and Operations

“One of the reasons I decided to hyphenate my last name when I got married was so that all my career accomplishments would give credit to the ‘Garzio’ family that sacrificed so much for me to go to college. My achievements were made possible by their support, love, and sacrifice and I will forever be grateful.” —Amanda Garzio-Hadzick, Water Resources Lab Director, Civil and Environmental Engineering

 “For me, being First Gen was hard. There wasn’t any support for First Gens when I was in school. I never felt like I belonged and often doubted I would graduate, but I always held onto my hope and my determination. I had to reach a place where I finally believed in myself and believed I could achieve the goals I wanted for my life. My one goal (that has never changed) is to keep learning, keep growing and keep becoming more than I am. I’m on that forever track that St. Augustine talked about, “Become what you are not yet.” I think it’s true that our inner potential is greater than any problem we face and that the answer is always within us! So, for me, graduating was and still is, everything!  Graduating made the life I have today possible and I am forever grateful.” —Rebeka Karrant, Lab Technician, Electrical and Computer Engineering

“My parents had a clear plan for me that involved graduating from college. They saved enough for a state school and off I went with no idea what to expect. Nearly 30 years later, my dad still continues to tell me how proud he is of me and that he wishes more than anything that he too could have gone to college.” —Kim Shimer, Director of Communications, College of Engineering

“My mom always wanted a 4-year college degree, so she never asked us if we wanted to go to college, she asked where we wanted to go. I always admired her determination to send my brother and me to college as a single parent." —Dr. Stephanie Walkup, Assistant Teaching Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

"My parents didn’t go to college, but they were informed and educated in that they were always reading a book, magazine, or newspaper. That was just our family culture—always keep learning!" —Dr. Andrea Welker, professor and Associate Dean, Academic Affairs