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First Gen Wall

Meet more of our Villanova First Generation Students, Faculty and Staff!

NEIL PATEL EGR Mechanical Engineering 2016
CINDY RENE CLAS English & Cultural Studies 2020
JULIA MENA CLAS Biology 2020
FR. FRANCIS E. CHAMBERS, OSA Arts & Sciences Liberal Arts 1973
LILY BUI CLAS Biology 2021
KANYINSOLA ODUNJO CLAS Comprehensive Science 2019
GABRIELE BAUER Office of Provost VITAL  
JOHN CENTER La Roche College/Mgmt UNIT 2022
MONICA ALLEN   School of Business 1987
NATASHA IIOFF VSB Acct & Real Estate 2020
PANKAJ PATEL VSB The Frank J. and Jane E. Ryan Family
Endowed Chair in Strategy & Innovation


Regina Sorgini

Professional Studies

MY STORY: My parents were older when they had children and they believed in hard work to make a good life. They encouraged everyone to get full-time jobs. I started my career in municipal work and attended evening classes at the local community college. I got married, had two children and when our youngest entered 2nd grade I went back to work full-time and part-time to college earning an Associate's degree. I came to work at NOVA in 2010 and then finished my B.A. in Leadership in 2014. As an adult learner, it is an experience I have truly valued and has deepened my love of learning. Now I am on my way to earn a master's in Education with a concentration in higher education. 

Valentina DeNardis

Classical Studies

MY STORY: My parents are immigrants. My mother did not have the opportunity to attend college and my father started working as an apprentice to a tailor as a child. I am grateful for the educational opportunities I've had and I am dedicated to helping others achieve their dreams, whether they are college undergraduates, graduate students, or just lovers of lifelong learning.

Andrea Welker

Univ Of Texas
Civil Engineering Faculty
1991, 1993, 1998

MY STORY: My parents greatly valued education and wanted more for their kids than they had. It truly is the American dream come true!

Kate Szumanski

History/Political Science
Directory of Professional Development

MY STORY: My parents encouraged my sister and I to do as well in school as we could. "Your job is to be a great student and to do your best," I remember both my Mom and Dad saying. I took their wishes very seriously, and when it was time to enroll in college, I selected Villanova University. Somehow, in someway, financial aid worked out, and I found myself at Villanova as far from my neighborhood in the Northeast section of Philadelphia as I could imagine. While a mere 35 minutes away by car, I felt thousands of miles away.

Although I felt the distance from home and at many times questioned being at Villanova (Am I as smart as the students around me? Can I keep up? Am I a fake? A phony? Did an Admissions officer mistakenly let me in?), something happened, and it is difficult to articulate.

As my time here grew, I too grew as an individual. And as I became more involved with my academic work, the Villanovan newspaper, the Band, Residence Life, the Writing Center, and my campus jobs, I began to build and extend my life here, and my world expanded enormously. I connected with more people, made lasting friendships, and created a new home.

Opportunities abounded, and I felt that yes, I too belong at Villanova, and not only do I belong here, but I am also very much part of the fabric of life here. I help to make Villanova what it is. I am a part of the community here, and this matters.

That little voice that questions my presence still speaks to me, but it isn't as loud as it once was, and when I hear it, I can shut it down

Joseph Toscano, Ph.D.

Psychological and Brain Sciences

MY STORY: I'm a faculty member in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and the first to receive a PhD. I grew up in Rochester, NY, and although my parents did not have college degrees, they valued education and helped to ensure that I went to college. I was also fortunate to have wonderful mentors during my undergraduate and graduate school years, and I'm grateful to now have the opportunity to support and encourage first generation students here at Villanova!


Kathy Kalata

School of Business
International Business & Management

MY STORY: 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 father jumped around from being a waiter, limousine driver, an oil tank painter, and finally a machine operator at a paper factory. He juggled his responsibilities like a clown at a circus.

His partner in this act was my mother. She had balanced being a mother of three and a housemaid. Holding both her roles of equal importance, she taught us a good work ethic and initiative and also instilled a strong foundation of the Catholicism within her children. 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.”

With my mother’s motto engraved into my mentality, it flowed through every one of my thoughts and actions. It was the reason behind my application and acceptance to Villanova University. It was my motivation to thrive despite the rigorous curriculum, competitive environment, and monumental costs. It is my motivation to continue studying and taking advantage of every opportunity Villanova has to offer such as the CoOp program that I am participating in this Fall. In addition to this, it was the reason I had participated in multiple programs such as Business Culture in Italian Context Program, Global Citizens Program in Singapore, Villanova Consultancy Group, and also Global Leadership Fellowship Program. Lastly, her words will be my motivation to “Pay It Forward” and help other students in similar hardships like myself day to day.

Barry Selinsky

Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development

MY STORY: 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 (first stay-at-home, then administrative assistant) sacrificed to insure 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. 

Gerald Beyer

Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies

MY STORY: I grew up in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. My family, like many working class families, invested in their children's education in the hope that they would be the first to graduate from college. Thanks to the generosity of donors who saw the need to create access for students who cannot afford college, I benefitted from a full tuition scholarship to Georgetown. It was really challenging socially and emotionally at times to attend a prestigious university as a first generation student among mostly students from affluent families. However, I had wonderful mentors who helped me navigate college life. Having determined that I too can succeed academically, I went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. My approach to higher education as a professor is shaped by the gratitude for the opportunities I had. 

Abbey Thompson

Computer Engineering

MY STORY: When people think about first generation college students, many people think about the challenges they had to face to get admitted. While this may be a difficult obstacle for many first generation students, the real challenge is staying in school and actually graduating. If you are like me, it is easy to feel alone and completely out of the loop sometimes. It's important for universities to have resources for first gen students and to create a community where their voices are heard. As a first gen student, I am excited to take what I have learned here at Villanova and use that to create a better life for my family who has sacrificed so much for me. 

Begum Galiv


MY STORY: As a first generation Bengali-American student, I will be the first in my family to graduate from a university and obtain a bachelor's degree. Most women in Bangladesh only complete their high school education or drop out of school, so my parents made it their mission to provide me many opportunities and obtain quality education. I would not be where I am today without the support of my parents. By being the first in my family to graduate from a university, I will not only make my parents proud, but also break the educational disparity that women face in Bangladesh.

SUNY Binghamton
CUNY Queens
Temple University

MY STORY: I am fortunate because college was much more affordable when I graduated from high school then it is now. My parents didn't feel like they could help me navigate the college experience, but they were emotionally and financially supportive. Also I believe my experience as a 1st generation college student was less daunting then it is for students now, because. at that time at public university, many of my peers were also 1st generation.

Glassboro State College
Fairleigh Dickinson College
Columbia University
Thomas Jefferson University
Education, Nursing
1984, 1986, 1993, 2011

MY STORY: My parents strongly valued education and fully supported their children pursing higher education degrees. I was the first of three children to graduate from college. I have had the fortune of earning two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree. However, what stands out most is the day my father, my brother and I all graduated from the same university. A few years later, my mother and youngest brother both graduated together. Lifelong learning is something I continue to pass on and share with my children.

Kimberly Kane

Bucknell University, BA, 2008
Villanova University, MA, 2015

Joselyn Miranda

Economics and Spanish

St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia

While attending an all girls Catholic high school my parents were unable to pay the Catholic high school tuition let alone afford to send me to college. A few weeks after graduating, I obtained a position working in an office at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Since college was not in my scope due to the cost, I did not start to take classes until 1978 and did so on what I call "the 11 year plan" graduating in May 1989. I was fortunate that the school paid 100% for its employees at that time to take classes and I did it through attending evening college, attending some summers, too. A promotion led to my working in the Financial Aid Office there, which was a very busy place requiring me to often work evenings and weekends. Often I mock myself for taking 11 years but others saw it as persistence. I was fortunate that my work experience there and college degree led to my working at Villanova in the Office of Financial Assistance where I've been now for more than 30 years. So as someone who was first in their family to attend and graduate from college, be persistent because it will pay off. Personally, I met my husband through a Villanova connection and am ever so grateful even more.

School of Business
Robert J. and Mary Ellen Darretta Endowed Chair in Finance

Like many first generation students, my family did not have much resources to send me or my four brothers to college but we made it work through scholarships, loans, and personal sacrifice. For my parents, they view all of us graduating from college as one of their greatest achievements in life. I graduated with a degree in economics / finance and went to work in the financial services industry for 10 years before going back to get a PhD and MBA. My first academic position was here at Villanova in 1999 and I have been here ever since! I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here and work with such great students, colleagues, and staff.

Tom Umile


MY STORY: Although neither of my parents graduated from college, I owe much of my academic successes to them. They taught me the value of hard work, good manners, and self-reliance. They helped me to develop strong study habits by helping me to study in grade school, sitting on the porch memorizing times tables, or taking me to the library to do research (in those pre-Internet days!). They fueled my adolescent interests in reading and made sure I could get my hands on any comic book or novel I wanted. In college and graduate school, when my parents could no longer academically assist me, they became my cheering section and encouraged and supported me every step of the way. As the son of parents without college degrees (and the grandson of hard-working folks who didn't finish high school), I am proud to admit that nothing I have accomplished has been done in a vacuum. Indeed, my successes have very much been a team effort!

Drexel University
Design & Merchandising
College of Nursing

MY STORY: My parents, the first generation of their families to be born in the United States, were determined that their children would attend college. My father attended Drexel University (then, Drexel Institute of Technology) pursuing an electrical engineering degree but had to stop to provide for his family. My parents helped when they could, however, I worked to put myself through college. I know that my graduation day was one of such pride to my parents and grandparents. My goal for my children is that they live at the college they attend and are not required to work to pay for their tuition.

Erianny Reyes

Exploratory Arts

MY STORY: My parents were born and raised in a small village in the Dominican Republic named Jaiqui Picado; a village so small that not even a Google Search could provide you with information on it. The nearest school was about 4 miles away and it took nearly two hours to reach by foot. With the only source of education so far away, and large family incomes being little to non-existent, most children were not able to attend or permitted by their family to continue. My father went as far as fifth grade before being forced to work on the plantations, and my mother was only able to reach her sophomore year of high school. Their inability to receive a good education and the sacrifice they made to come to this country, continues to be a big motivating factor for me to excel in school and capitalize on an opportunity that was not afforded to them. 

Victor Jose Jaimes

M.A. in Political Science, Certificate in Pastoral Ministry

Bryn Mawr College
History, Italian Literature

I was the first in my Italian-American family to go to college. My parents both would have been so successful had they had the opportunity to attend college, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, they instilled in me and in my sister the importance of education and made certain that we both graduated from college. With this base, we both were able to go on to professional schools.

We both were blessed to have been given college scholarships but there was still quite a gap as far as paying for our educations. My parents worked hard to pay large parts of these gaps, and my sister and I both had jobs and took out loans. As a family, we made it work. But, besides the financial issues, there were other changes that our college educations brought. Our parents wanted us to have education, but as we became educated, we, in some ways, moved away from them. We were put on paths different from our blue-collar background. New ideas, new ways of expressing ourselves and living, were foreign to our parents. They were perplexed about many things. They loved and supported us, but could not help us with college and career decisions, as they had not had these experiences. First generation college students have to figure it out for themselves.

Being able to attend college was life-changing, to be sure. We were so fortunate, so blessed, to have parents who risked change in order to provide the best for us.