Undergraduate Programs

Celebrating Clarkson University’s First Generation Students

On November 8, the Council for Opportunity in Education and Center for First Generation Student Success celebrates the sixth annual First Generation Celebration Day. Here at Clarkson, we join other colleges and universities across the country in celebrating our students who are the first in their family to attend college and receive a higher education.

Mahammadou Tunkara ’24, a Global Supply Chain major, Samantha Sikora ’26, a Computer Science major, and William Thackston ’24, a Mechanical Engineering major, all express a deep sense of pride in being a first generation college student. To recognize First-Generation Celebration Day, we wanted to let Mahammadou, Samantha, and William speak for themselves about what their experience as a first generation student means to them.

Mahammadou Tunkara ’24

Environmental portrait of Mahammadou Tunkara '24 in front of a vine covered wall

I am proud to be a first generation student because I have siblings. I had to go through most of the college process without much family help as they don’t have the experience. With the experience that I have gained I can now make it easier for my siblings.

To be a first generation student means learning to cope with stress. It means being a trail blazer for family that come after.

Someone has to be the first. It is important for first generation students to attend college because it means being the first to start a generation of benefits. With a higher education degree, my future and the future of my family is changed for the better.

I went to a charter school called Democracy Prep. It was a school that was very hyper-focused on going to college. The motto was “Work Hard, Go to College, and Changed the World.” 

To the first generation high school student I would tell them that it is worth it. However I would warn to make sure they go to the right college, to not get in too much debt, and to choose a good degree that they not only enjoy, but gives them financial freedom when they go into the work force. 

Samantha Sikora ’26

I grew up in Buffalo, NY. While I lived in Buffalo with my family, we had many stressful times due to a lack of money. My parents were always stressed and it was time for a change to occur. When me and my mom moved to the Pavilion, I took that as an opportunity to better myself. I did not want to go through what my parents did and I wanted to find a way to be more successful than my parents in the future.

Environmental portrait of Samantha Sikora leaning on a railing of a bridge going over a river

Throughout middle school and high school, I put my school work first, and tried to take as many hard classes as I could. It was definitely stressful at times, but I was able to achieve a lot of success in high school. I wanted to learn from my parents’ misfortunes and turn that into an opportunity to succeed.

Though I didn’t know what college I wanted to go to originally, I was able to find a common interest I had, and apply that to the major I am now. With the support of my family behind me I feel like I have a high chance of achieving success because of them.

What makes me proud to be a first generation student is to see my parents happy, and to have the opportunity to attend college when they did not have the opportunity too. Being a first generation college student means I have an opportunity to be successful through learning new experiences and living in a new environment. 

It is important for first generation students to attend college because they have an opportunity to spread their interest or talent into a profession they will enjoy in the future.

What I would say to a high school student that could be a first generation college student is to take the opportunity. Being a first generation college student in your family can help you develop the skills whether through communication, or expanding your interest to be able to succeed in a constantly changing world.

William Thackston ’24

When I first graduated high school in 2017, I had no clue what I’d want to do for a career. I did attended BOCES in high school for welding and considered that as a career option. I ultimately decided to attend Jefferson Community College as a liberal arts major since I was uncertain on what I wanted to do. My brother graduated from the same college before I arrived and I had heard about all of the cool stuff he had done in the engineering program, which led me to pursue the engineering degree.

Headshot of William Thackston in front of a window

I took a break from college after the fall semester of 2018 to pursue a part time career in the Air National Guard, then resumed classes in the spring of 2020. When the pandemic happened, my college experience changed drastically compared to prior 2018. Everything went online and it was much harder for me to learn and stay engaged with the material. Classes were back in person in the fall of 2021, and I received my associates degree from Jefferson Community College in the spring of 2022.

To me, being a first generation student means that I’m pursuing a four-year college degree so I can learn new skills and get my foot in the door in the professional world.

What makes me proud as a first generation student is applying what I learned in class to the future I want to pursue. There were two projects I had for an engineering class in the past that required us to build a device. Using the knowledge I learned in class, I was able to make the devices and they worked for what they were made for. Seeing the fruits of labor in creating these devices is what made me proud.

For first generation students, I think attending college is an important next step because that’s when you start to focus on subjects that matter to the career field you want to pursue. It’s a step up from high school and its a whole new learning experience. You start to figure out more about yourself and work alongside others that have the same interests as you.

My advice to other first generation college students would be to tell them to give college a try and see how they would like it. If you’re unsure what you want to do right out of high school, do a semester of college as undecided and explore the different classes available to you. Who knows, maybe you might be interested in something along the way.

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