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First Generation Stories


Mike Dinning - Vice-President, Student Affairs

Mike Dinning

Barb Rice for site.jpg

Barbara Rice


Lydia Almorales-Ray


Shannon Richards

Mike Dinning

Vice-President, Student Affairs

I grew up at a time and in a community where few either thought about or eventually accessed post-secondary education. The norm was to finish high school and go out and work. None of my extended family or my neighbours had ever attended postsecondary education but I always knew that I was going to go to university. Upon reflection I believe that the two most influential factors that contributed to this decision were the support of my parents and a sense that I wanted something different for my life. I think it’s possible to count on one hand the number of individuals that ever went to university from the community in which I lived, but that’s just the way it was.

I completed an Honours BA and Masters of Arts degree at the University of Western Ontario and have worked for the past 37 years in postsecondary education. I have seen first-hand that education can change people and their circumstances. In the next generation of my family, with my parents’ ten grandchildren, nine attended and graduated from university and one graduated the culinary chef program at a community college. Things can change quickly from one generation to the next.

Barbara Rice

Program Coordinator, Business Administration Management

As I look back 30+ years ago at my experience as a First-generation post-secondary student, I realize it was a huge step for me and my family. I was the first one of 19 grandchildren from a farming-focused family to go on to post-secondary education, and it was hard. My grandmother couldn't understand my choice and wondered, out loud, many times, why I was "wasting my time." This made me even more determined. I struggled, but between OSAP, Kraft Dinner and my mom's care packages, I survived. I didn't have any school role models or close friends to seek advice so there were a lot of bumps. I "fled" home every weekend but determinedly returned each Sunday night ready to keep going. By the end of second year, I found I could "do it" and became involved in school. Then, I truly enjoyed it. Also, a co-op job at General Motors launched me head-first into a corporate world and taught me school was valuable. It was teaching me to think and question and learn the language of business.

Bottom-line, each of us needs to make our own choices in life. If you truly want to try something, lay out your goals and plans and go for it. Sure, there may be detours, and the path may be difficult, but if you never try you'll never know. I'm glad I tried a different road.

Lydia Almorales-Ray

Counsellor, Counselling Services

Being First Generation truly means going where no one else has gone before, not just academically but in so many ways, because this door leads to so many places. It takes a lot of determination to vision something beyond your experiences and to seek to achieve it. But sometimes the vision is so clear and the determination so great that you don’t feel alone.Immerse yourself in all the supports around you and do your very best - that's what I did and my vision is now my reality.

Shannon Richards

Project Manager, First Generation Student Initiative

I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who truly only wanted their children to be happy. There were no expectations or pressures put on us and our parents would have been pleased whether we attended post-secondary school or not. I was never forced to think about post-secondary or the opportunities that it would bring me. After high school I worked for a local company where my employer encouraged me to carry on with my education. Following their advice, I began taking part-time General Business continuing education courses in 2007. I continued to take courses until the summer of 2009 when I was laid off. It was at this point that I decided to return to Conestoga College as a full-time student and complete the Business Administration - Management program.

Even the thought of becoming a full-time student again was overwhelming. College was an unfamiliar place to me. I knew very little about the actual school and did not know who I could turn to when I needed direction. It took a full year to become comfortable here. By my second year I had become involved in clubs, committees and had an on-campus job with Student Life. It was hard to go through that process alone but it brought me to where I am now. I am very thankful for my current position as the First Generation Project Manager as it allows me to support students that are in the same position I once was.

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