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First Generation Graduates: Will Phillips, Academic Advisor, Liberal Arts

November 7, 2023

After graduating high school from South Spencer High School in Reo, Indiana, Will Phillips admits he wasn’t prepared to go to college. “As a first-generation student, no one was really having any conversations with me about college (during high school),” he explains. “But I found USI because I had gone to a summer camp here when I was in elementary school.”

Starting at USI in the Fall of 2019, Phillips pursued and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2022. Now, he works to give back to USI students, helping to guide them during their academic journeys.

As a first-generation graduate, what made you want to pursue a college education?

I pretty much knew that (attending college) was my way out of where I was. My family wasn’t very wealthy, and I knew I didn’t necessarily want to work in typical jobs in that area that did not require a college degree; I knew that wasn’t for me. I had dreams and saw something I wanted to accomplish, so I just went for it.

Being a 21st Century Scholar, I knew I had that financial support. Really without that, I don’t think I would have entered college just due to the financial aspect of it. That scholarship really helped make my decision. (The 21st Century Scholarship is an Indiana program that pays up to 100% of tuition at public colleges in Indiana and part of the tuition at private or independent Indiana colleges for those students who are eligible.)

What was your biggest challenge, if you had any?

Just not knowing how to navigate everything and not knowing the jargon as well. I had no idea what Satisfactory Academic Progress was, I didn’t know what the Bursar’s Office did, didn’t know what DegreeWorks was, I didn’t know email etiquette—simple stuff that people assumed high school graduates already had background knowledge in. So that was definitely a challenge.

But thankfully, I had a couple professors and some other professional staff who really helped me learn everything. Without them, I don’t think I would have been able to do it, because getting into college is just the first step; then you have four years of work.

What was your fondest memory about college?

Being an orientation leader, being involved with the Emerging Leaders Group and being able to work with freshmen, incoming students. I was also a peer advisor for the Center for Exploring Majors and that was really cool. I was able to teach students in their first semester the kinds of things I wish I knew and just see them grow and develop over their first year or so.

What is a piece of advice you have for anyone looking to pursue college as a first-generation student?

I would say seek out resources or people who you think can help you. But also, just do it--which is easier said than done, but I think the biggest thing is to find a group of people who support you whether they're professors, staff or even just family or friends.

I’m really grateful for USI because I didn't really know what my college experience was going to be like, but I am really happy I ended up here. It's just such a tight-knit community. People are really willing to help out. I feel like my experience here was better as opposed to if I would have gone to somewhere like Indiana University or Purdue. I feel like I was actually valued as a person at USI as opposed to being another number.

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