Captain’s Academy

Faces of First Gen

Southwestern believes it is important for our faculty and staff to reflect the student body. As the number of first-generation college students continues to grow at SU, we want to recognize its first-generation faculty and staff. 

ACM Headshot

Anna Cortes-McCrary, Academic Success Coordinator

What motivated you as a first-generation college student? 

My friends and the staff in the Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services. I was really lucky to have a group of friends who were also first-generation and an office that felt like a second home at an institution where I didn’t always feel welcomed. They pushed me to be better and always reminded me that we would be THE change not only for our families but communities. 

Dave Seiler


Dave Seiler, Director of Academic Success

What does being a first-generation college student/grad mean to you?

I was able to fulfill the educational opportunities that my parents worked hard for and had provided for me. My parents believed and emphasized that having an education was the great “equalizer” in our society and afforded you many more opportunities in life.

Malissa Sanon


Malissa Ismaila, Director of Student Inclusion and Diversity

What is one piece of advice you would give to incoming first-generation college students now? 

Every day, just be a better version of yourself. Some days, it will not look worth it, but it is. Have a reminder, a picture, a song, or a letter, something that reminds you of your why, so when the vision gets cloudy, you will regain your focus. Also learn to forgive your family for not understanding the process. Sometimes “you still ain’t done yet” is a trigger, but remember they have never been through this or are unfamiliar with the process. Extend that grace. Sometimes good intended people, make mistakes. Always remember, the race is not given to the quick and the swift, but those who work hard for it. And you are doing a great job!


 Raquel Moreira, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies

What does being a first-generation college student/grad mean to you?

I grew up in a country in which a college education is an absolute privilege, so there was no effort or push to name and identify “first-generation” students. It was not until I came to the United States that I realized my experiences with higher ed were markedly different from those around me, especially in graduate school. These experiences, however, are vital in my ability to relate to and support first-generation students whom I now teach.

Sandra Hancock

Sandra Hancock, Assistant Director of Study Abroad and International Student Services

What motivated you as a first-generation college student? 

I realized that my best chance to leave the type of community and family/relative environment I was living in was to get an education. I saw the paths that those around me had which led to crime, substance abuse, or for those that avoided those, just a real daily struggle of living paycheck to paycheck. I strongly felt that having an education would be a key to changing my life, so I decided to go for it even if I didn’t know how to begin or if it would happen. I wanted to have the ability to choose a career instead of just accepting whatever job I could get with a high school education. I wanted the ability to be more financially independent. I wanted the opportunity to learn and grow and gain skills like critical thinking and the ability to see the world from a different perspective. 

Jennifer Leach

Jennifer Leach, Director of Advising and Retention  

What is one piece of advice you would give to incoming first-generation college students now?

I normally say “don’t be afraid to ask questions”. However, over tme, I have noticed that it’s difficult to ask questions when you don’t know what you should be asking. You don’t know what you don’t know. I think in lieu of asking questions, I would say, connect with someone and share your story. As you connect with faculty and staff, we are able to pick up on challenges you might be facing and offer support. Know that we are here to help you. 

Thomas Delahunt

Tom Delahunt, Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment

What does being a first-generation college student/grad mean to you?

Being the first in my family carried with it an enormous amount of pride but also responsibility. I felt responsible to not only my immediate family but also to friends and neighbors who were curious and apprehensive about making the leap to attend college. My career has brought my into contact with many first generation college students and I can see the relief in their body language when I share that my experience is so similar to theirs.

Leonie Dsouza

Leonie Dsouza, Director of Upward Bound

What motivated you as a first-generation college student? 

The desire to do better and be better was what motivated me. Every day was a competition to outdo what I did the day before. I saw furthering my education as a golden ticket and was fortunate to have folks in my sphere that encouraged that line of thought. 

Carin Perilloux

Carin Perilloux, Associate Professor of Psychology

What does being a first-generation college student/grad mean to you?

For me, it meant delivering on a lifetime of promise. Growing up, my parents were always telling me I would be the first in our family to go to college, so it was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. That said, I didn’t always feel like I belonged, but I was eager to prove myself and make my parents proud. In graduate school, however, I really started to feel imposter syndrome. I was even convinced I was the butt of a practical joke and would be asked to leave during the first week - “there was no way I deserved a spot in the UT PhD program!” It took a lot of effort but I persevered and now I am devoted to helping students navigate similar challenges - which usually involves affirming their self-confidence and letting them know it’s okay to ask questions and not know everything (that’s what your instructors and mentors are for)!

Jennifer Frias

Jennifer frias, Professional Academic Advisor

What does being a first-generation college student/grad mean to you?

Being the first in my family to graduate college makes me feel both proud and anxious. As grateful as I am to have completed my B.A. and M.A., there are still moments when I feel like I don’t belong in the spaces I’m in or that I haven’t done enough to be considered successful. During those moments, I do my best to remind myself that the spaces I’m in do need me, especially since there hasn’t been someone like me represented in them before. Success is also a broad term which is defined better by the people experiencing it instead of what some collective determines. Within my daily work, I often share personal experiences to help normalize the many challenges first-years face and reassure them that they are not alone in this journey.