National First-Gen Day is today, Nov. 8, 2017

Written by
Sabina Haskell

November 8, 2017


Ashley and Johanna

Count us in! Today is the first-ever, national First-Generation College Celebration, organized by the Council for Opportunity in Education.

Here in Vermont, VSAC works with middle and high school students who are the first in their family to go to college. Through our Talent Search and GEAR UP programs, we work with over 5,000 Vermont students every year.

That’s a lot of reasons to celebrate. And we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Pratt and Johanna Lee, both first-gens and both incredibly accomplished. Congratulations to you both and we hope you’re celebrating today, too!

Meet Ashley Pratt, 2013 Rutland High School & 2017 Keene State College graduate

Ashley Pratt When Ashley was in the ninth grade, she enrolled in the VSAC outreach program and she was certain that she wanted to be a lawyer. Because she was the first in her family to attend college, she felt she had additional motivation to make her aspirations of attending college come true. Sometime during her high school career, Ashley decided to explore the major and career of athletic trainer.

Ashley’s ambition to apply to five colleges got her accepted into Castleton University, Hofstra University, Ithaca College, Quinnipiac University and Keene State College. The best financial aid package came from Keene State College and this school “felt right” and is where she enrolled in the fall of 2013.

During her first year at Keene State, Ashley realized that being an athletic trainer was not for her and she made the decision to change her major to criminal justice with a minor in sociology.

Ashley was the first in her family to attend college and, having grown up in a single-parent home, resources were very limited; so, good financial aid was essential to helping her reach her goal of obtaining a college degree. She applied for and received scholarships and a Vermont Grant which enabled her to make Keene State College an affordable option.

Ashley graduated from Keene State College with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Studies in May 2017. She is currently employed as an investigator for the New Hampshire Public Defender’s Office. Ashley feels that she was very fortunate to have the guidance she received through the VSAC Talent Search program since it helped her to make informed decisions regarding selecting and paying for college costs.

In Ashley’s words, “The information and assistance I received helped me to become an informed consumer.” While both grants and scholarships were a significant help in covering some college costs, working full-time her last two years of college also helped and she feels fortunate to have taken the job where she is still employed after receiving her college degree.

Here is Ashley’s advice to others who have similar obstacles:

“Never give up on yourself. College is a big adjustment for most and particularly for students who are first in their family to attend. Parents may lack the resources to be a key support when it comes to advice or even helping out financially.”

“Be proactive in identifying your own resources through family and friends and definitely take advantage of programs like VSAC Talent Search that provide ongoing counseling and support for college planning throughout middle and high school.”

“Make sure to take full advantage of the resources available to you in college (you are paying for these resources, remember).”  Ashley has been living in an apartment in New Hampshire with her kitty and her fiancé. She looks forward to seeing what the future will bring.

Meet Johanna Lee, 2013 West Rutland High School & 2017 Bryant University graduate

Johanna LeeJohanna was not sure what she wanted to do with her life after she graduated from college. Yet her early interest in working with numbers resulted in a path focused on financial analysis as she pursued her degree.

In 2017 Johanna graduated from Bryant University with a major in business administration and a concentration in finance. She also received minors in communication and psychology. While she was attending Bryant, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Australia and attend Griffith University.

Attending a private institution can mean higher college costs but Johanna’s active pursuit of scholarships during her senior year at West Rutland High School produced good results. She received many local scholarships as well as college funding from Bryant University that helped to keep overall costs affordable. While she does have college debt, she is grateful to be in a career field she enjoys and one that is related to her degree. Johanna works as a recruiter and an account manager for Insight Global in Stamford, and currently resides in Stamford, Conn.

Johanna feels that college debt is inevitable and a part of the reality of college going today. With her loans in repayment, she is working hard to make ends meet and to insure her long-term financial needs are secure. Johanna says she is fortunate to have family who can assist her with both moral and occasional financial support.

Johanna’s advice to others embarking on a similar journey:  “Follow your dreams and your passions, research colleges and learn about all financial options that are available to you including through your college. Have confidence with your career choices and never let a lack of funding prevent you from attend college.

“College has benefits that you may not realize immediately and it is an investment in your future that will open doors. Look to your family for support or find out about the Talent Search or GEAR UP program offered through your Vermont high school that offers guidance and resources with planning for college and career.”