First in My Family - Ben Brown

Ben BrownFour years ago, I was an 18-year-old boy who had just graduated High School. I was working for minimum wage at a fast food franchise, with no sense of guidance and direction. Look at me now! I’m a 22-year-old African American male. A month ago, I received a B.S. in Mathematical Sciences. In about two months, I will be starting a M.S. in Applied Statistics. I currently am employed in two locations. I serve as an Operational Analytics Team Member for UMRF Ventures at the University of Memphis. I also serve as the Project Assistant for the African American Degree Completion Academy at the University of Memphis. How did this happen? What series of events allowed me to be at this point in my life? Well, it all started about four years ago with a life changing phone call from a student in the First Scholars Program. The call was brief. The representative informed me about how I was eligible for the scholarship, and then proceeded to inform me of the benefits that the program would provide. She told me her personal story and explained to me how fantastic the program had been for her. I listened indifferently, interpreting her tone as pretense. Yet, looking back, she was completely correct. 

"I encourage all incoming students to enter college with an open mind.  There are many resources constructed specifically for you. You should take full advantage of as many opportunities as possible."

There are many trials that first generation college students face, compared to their peers. The tools needed to succeed, and even the knowledge of what tools are required, are completely non-existent. Personally, I found it fruitless to ask my parents for collegiate assistance because they have never been in the college environment. I was unfamiliar with the intricacies of the campus, so without being encouraged to walk to each of my classes on the night before classes began, I would have been helpless when traveling to class. Most students are not aware of the personal and social benefits that come with joining Student Organizations. The sense of belonging that was received when I joined the Student Government Association was remarkably refreshing. Most first-generation students struggle with budgeting. If it wasn't for a financial literacy presentation during a campus workshop, I probably would have run out of funds mid-semester. When a student is undergoing a stressful event, many may feel that there are very few people who they can talk to. However, through my involvement with my scholarship program and student organizations, I was able to find support. Weeks before classes began, I was in communication with professional staff members who were more than willing to share their resources with me. I had been connected with a peer mentor who I was able to relate to on a more personal level. My cohort also participated in a community building social event during the weekend before our first class.

Being the Project Assistant of the African American Completion Academy, it's my goal to help support the progress of young African American men. This is done by providing a set of services. The services provided were intentionally drawn from a menu of institutional activities proven to favorably impact student success and completion. When comparing these services to the services provided to me early on, I'm able to see how effective It can be. The academic coaching provided through the program coordinators, the Living Learning Community that the students engage in, the financial literacy/assistance, and even the peer mentoring that was implemented have all been strategically designed to contribute to student success.

I will forever be grateful for the opportunities provided through the UofM. It has given me transferable skills marketable to any employer. It has allowed me to discover my purpose in life, and overall, it has made me a better person. I encourage all incoming students to enter the university with an open mind. There are many resources constructed specifically for you. You should take full advantage of as many opportunities as possible.