School News

Q&A: Celebrating the Trailblazing Michigan Ross Students Who Were the First in Their Families to Attend College For National First-Gen Day

By Bridget Vis

Whether by being the first in the family to go to college or taking on leadership roles on campus, first-generation students at the Ross School of Business continue to pave the way for themselves and others on campus and in the business world.

In recognition of National First-Generation College Day on Nov. 8, Michigan Ross is celebrating the first-gen students in its community. Below, students from the Michigan Ross Bachelor of Business Administration, Full-Time MBA, and Executive MBA programs answer questions related to being the first in their families to go to college for a bachelor’s degree.

Fun Fact: Did you know that there are over 4,000 first-generation college students at the University of Michigan? 

Kachi Ezirike

Program/grad year: Full-Time MBA ’22
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Post-graduation career interest: Technology

What does being first gen mean to you?  

First gen for me means that I am the first in my family to embark on this higher educational journey. It forced me to become adaptable and learn things on the fly, but it also taught me not to be afraid to ask for help because no one makes it to the finish line by themselves.

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

I have felt supported in my educational journey at Ross. By being a part of the Consortium, I feel that I’m a part of a community where I can genuinely be myself and be surrounded by classmates with similar backgrounds. I also think the Ross community has done a great job at creating an atmosphere for people from different backgrounds to feel included inside and outside the classroom.

Who has helped you along the way? 

Some of the people who have helped me along the way are a former Ross admissions officer, Bryan Johnson; our marketing professor, Marcus Collins; and a group formed by some of my classmates called Work Hard, Play Hard.

Amanda Hsieh

Program/grad year: Full-Time MBA ’22

Hometown: Willits, California

Post-graduation career interest: Consulting/social impact

What does being first gen mean to you? 

Being first gen is super important to my identity. It has shaped a lot of my life and career decisions. While it may not be something people know when they first meet me, I feel like it’s a lens in which I see the world, similarly to how being an Asian American female has shaped my perspective. 

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross? 

People I’ve met along the way both at Ross and outside of Ross have been instrumental to my success. Throughout my educational journey, I’ve deliberately chosen to attend large public universities with a very diverse study body. Having a diverse student body has helped me find classmates who I can both relate to and learn from. I always look for opportunities to connect, learn from, and help other first gens.

Who has helped you along the way? I'm very lucky to have an immigrant, hard-working father who has always pushed me to excel regardless of the resources, or lack thereof, we had growing up. Growing up in a community where education was not the focus of most individuals, having my father’s laser focus on college helped ensure I was on a path that would lead to financial stability. 

Alex Jimenez

Program/grad year: BBA ’23
Hometown: Wyoming, Michigan
Post-graduation career interest: Media and entertainment

What does being first gen mean to you? 

Being first gen to me means navigating educational institutions that were not built with you in mind. Attending a school where the median family income is five times more than what I had growing up, quickly highlighted the financial disparities I was going to face coming to Michigan. Since both of my parents' highest level of education was a Mexican high school diploma, which some programs in the U.S. do not even accept, learning how to get through college required a lot of trial and error on my part. 

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

During my time at Ross, my biggest support system has definitely been the Preparation Initiative program, a learning community designed for students with limited exposure to rigorous academic courses who want to cross-campus transfer into the BBA Program. The Preparation Initiative provided me access to tutors, mentors, and friends who were also first gen and came from other underrepresented backgrounds at the business school. 

Anthony Owens

Program/grad year: EMBA ’22

Hometown: Grand Blanc, Michigan

Job title/company: Senior program manager, Meritor

What does being first gen mean to you? 

Being a first gen means forging a path of change and building a future that was once impossible to obtain.

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

I was fortunate enough to build a network of mentors throughout my educational journey. The support system at Ross has been fantastic. Whether it be career guidance, leadership development, or personal/professional development, the faculty is always there to offer time and resources.

Who has helped you along the way?

There have been many people who have helped me along the way, but the most supportive person has been my wife, Lindsey Owens. She has been there for me since we were 15 years old. Her support has given me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and go further than I could ever imagine. 

Ryan Sharpstene

Program/grad year: MBA/JD ’24

Hometown: Lyons Falls, New York 

Post-graduation career interest: Tech-focused law

What does being first gen mean to you? 

Being the first in my family to graduate from college, hold a professional corporate job, and now attend graduate school has shown me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. While it's easy to let imposter syndrome take over, being first gen means pushing yourself forward, no matter how uneasy the feelings may be, to set out and accomplish your parents' wildest dreams. 

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross? 

From my time in undergrad at Ithaca College all the way to my time here at Michigan Ross, mentors big and small have helped me set goals, navigate the job market, and even understand the complexities of office small talk (to say nothing of learning the right way to dress at work). While those last points may seem trivial, when you're first gen you often cannot call home for advice on navigating higher education or corporate spaces. Most of all, I know that everyone in the Michigan Ross community is rooting for my (and everyone else's) success.

Who has helped you along the way? 

I don't know if there is one person I can single out who has helped me along the way. That said, I've been beyond fortunate to have a network of mentors (and friends) who have supported me in every step of my career. Be it my former high school English teacher, my undergrad Model UN advisor, colleagues from my time in the Obama-Biden administration and Silicon Valley, to my professors here at U-M, I know I have a strong network I can count on at a moment's notice. 

Jessica Vila-Goulding

Program/grad year: EMBA ’22

Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Job title/company: Associate Director — Treasury, Ford Motor Co.

What does being first gen mean to you?

It means being fearless about knocking on doors in search of opportunities to achieve your goals. It means finding that mentor within yourself to navigate the unknown. It means accepting that everyone is on a different timeline, that paths may be bumpier, but in the end very rewarding because you can show it is possible to break cycles.

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

Part of being a first gen also entails academic discovery along the way, including learning what institutions are the best fit for you and your academic goals. I have been privileged to attend and explore various universities that catered to my needs, goals, and aspirations. This is especially true of Michigan Ross, where I value not only the academic rigor, but also the strong sense of community.

Who has helped you along the way?

Too many to list, but the most influential ones have been former workplace mentors and professors who have taken a genuine interest in my development and advancement. 

Annie Wang 

Program/grad year: BBA ‘23
Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia
Post-graduation career interest: Consulting/entrepreneurship 

What does being first gen mean to you? 

To me, being a first-generation college student means being a trailblazer in my family, an explorer within my community, and a role model for fellow first-gen Wolverines. I take pride in overcoming the myriad of hardships that first-gen low-income students face, and I use this resiliency to become a strong member of the Ross community. 

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

The Ross School of Business has helped me achieve things I didn't even think were possible, from sharing my story on stage for the Sanger Leadership Center’s Story Lab program, to receiving a unique college preparedness opportunity through Ross Summer Connections

Who has helped you along the way? 

I have been a part of the BBA DEI Committee since my first year, and I'm immensely grateful for the faculty/staff team and fellow student leaders who help to establish an inclusive environment for all underrepresented voices at Ross. 

When I first came to college as a first-gen, I was nervous about succeeding academically and socially while working part-time jobs, but now, nearly three years later, I am confident in my ability to thrive amongst the Ross community and look forward to the challenges ahead.

Annie Wang, BBA '23

Kenneth Washpon

Program/grad year: BBA ’22

Hometown: Harlem, New York

Post graduation career interest: Finance

What does being first gen mean to you?

The meaning of first gen to me always changes. Somedays I feel the weight of those words and other days I do not. There is no one state of being for me. Through its ups and downs, I’m thankful for the opportunities afforded to me and the people/programs around me that look out for me. For example, without the Kessler Scholarship, I would not be able to be here.

How have you felt supported in your educational journey and at Michigan Ross?

Ross is a beast of its own. I think Ross still has work to do to support first-generation students. In fact, most institutions are not set up for their “first.” However, I will say the people (including faculty and students) make the experience worthwhile. The faculty looks to push me to places I thought I couldn’t go. If you show your interest and effort, it is rewarded. I have met some great friends at the school and we look out for one another. 

Who has helped you along the way?

I want to give a special shout-out to my family, especially my mother. She believes in everything I say I can do. Without her support, I don’t know where I’d be. Now, on to everyone else. I would like to acknowledge my Preparation Initiative family. A family of people with shared experiences where we are one and we always look out for each other. Furthermore, my Kessler family is a big part of my success as well. I am truly thankful for the support they have provided me with navigating college and the support they sustained throughout my transition out of LSA. 

Gabrielle C. Wiwigacz

Program/grad year: BBA ’24

Hometown: Livonia, Michigan

Post-career interest: Marketing 

What does being first gen mean to you? 

Being a first-generation student is something I am proud of. Often first-gen students are referred to as trailblazers, which is a term that I think describes first-generation students and our passions perfectly. When I think of first-generation students, I am proud of the ambition and drive we have to make a path that was not shown to us before, branching out, and making a difference in our lives that positively impacts the future. Although there are times with my peers where imposter syndrome is relevant or I become nervous of the future, I remind myself that a lot of risks were taken to get where I am today, and if I can be here surrounded by supportive peers, I can do anything. 

How have you felt supported in your educational journey/at Ross?

I always find home when I run into another first-gen student in Ross and tend to find them in the most nonchalant ways, whether it is in a meeting or through casual conversation in the Winter Garden. We are able to bond over common issues we run into and give each other life advice and motivation.

Who has helped you along the way? 

At school, I have discovered my most supportive resource has been my academic advisor, Eva Bacevice. Eva has helped me figure out my plan, navigate the stress of college through providing advice, and be there to help me solve problems by calming me down to develop a proper approach. In addition to the advisors I have met at Ross, I have been blessed to meet upperclassmen who have given me advice and been vulnerable to share their stories with me at networking events, CDO-sponsored events, and clubs. All of these people who have helped me allow me to realize I am not alone. In my own mentor position, I share the same advice I have been given to assist as many people as I can by sharing the wealth of knowledge and companionship that was shown to me.

In This Series