First-Generation First Lady - Dr. Loretta Rudd

October 2018

Dr. Loretta RuddI started my college career in 1979 as a first-generation student, but of course that term didn't exist at the time. I hadn't realized how significant my journey would be for my family. My mother and father had taken a few college courses, but neither in pursuit of a degree, and my older sister took a few courses but didn't finish until years later. I would be the first person in my family to earn a degree, let alone two masters and a doctorate degree.

As the middle of seven children, we were always encouraged to read, and it was stressed that education was important. However, there was never a strong emphasis on "each of you will go to college." For me there was never a question. I wanted to be a teacher since I was very young and a degree was a requirement for that.

In high school, I realized I wanted to work with children that were hard of hearing, but I had little resources to figure out the best college to attend, let alone how to pay for college or navigate the system. I knew I needed to stay in-state so my tuition would be lower, but I knew nothing about financial aid or scholarships. Of the four programs in Texas that offered communication disorders degrees, I looked at the closest two and chose Texas Women's University. After a year of being quite distraught with no guidance as to what a "full load" was and no one to ask other than professors that weren't very helpful, I transferred to University of Texas. This was a huge change as the student population was 40,000 versus the 10,000 of TWU. Even though it was big and seemed scary and everyone knew someone except for me, I was in a program that had student counselors that offered advice. This along with resources offered by the College of Communication Sciences helped me navigate through the academic environment.

I was in a rush to finish the program and start making money, so I took summer courses at UT Arlington and finished in three years. It was crucial for me to have support along the way, which is where I credit my sister and my then boyfriend and now husband, David Rudd. We had dated all through high school, then he went off to attend Princeton University, also as a first gen student. We both experienced similar hardships, but we kept encouraging each other over our countless long-distance phone calls.

I first acquired my general ed certification and began working, but I needed a master's degree to be fully certified to teach children with hearing-impairments. David and I married, and although it was hard working, going to school and beginning our family, I was passionate about the program I was in and that made it easier.

"My advice for first gen students now is to get involved on campus. Find organizations that you feel passionate about, even if it's outside your major." I didn't do that; I only went to football and baseball games. Find friend groups within your major. First Scholars and TRiO are great resources where you will find people who can support you emotionally and academically. Learning occurs within the context of relationships, both social learning and emotional learning. Build those relationships and persist. Most professors are also passionate about affecting change within students and helping them, so find professors you feel a connection with, make appointments with them, ask them questions and heed their advice.

Dr. Loretta Rudd  |  422 Manning  |  lrudd@memphis.edu  |  901.678.4407