A First-Generation Story

Stephanie and Shawn Davison 1500x400

Shawn and Stephanie Davison

Shawn and Stephanie Davison, newly married in 2004, both knew that they wanted to go to college, but that decision was just about the only thing they were sure of. The rest—picking a school, discerning between majors, unraveling scholarship and funding options, and navigating a massive university—was a mystery waiting to be solved. The Davisons had no one to rely on but each other when they embarked on their journey to become college graduates.

As first-generation college students, Shawn and Stephanie took their education one step at a time, funding it as they were able, and discovering degree programs that fit their goals. They moved to the Twin Cities from their native Quincy, IL, in 2009 and enrolled at a community college to complete general courses and to earn their Associate of Art degrees. In 2012 they transferred to the U of M, where they explored undergraduate degree options.

“We both come from working-class families. My dad worked in a granary, her dad worked in a mine. We knew that there wasn’t much stability or pay in that kind of environment, so we knew we wanted to go to college. We pushed for it, and here we are.”

“We’ve been doing this journey together from the start,” Shawn says. “We both come from working-class families. My dad worked in a granary, her dad worked in a mine. We knew that there wasn’t much stability or pay in that kind of environment, so we knew we wanted to go to college. We pushed for it, and here we are.”

Shawn and Stephanie both chose to pursue individualized degrees through the Inter-College Program (ICP) major. It allowed each of them to craft a degree that accounted for their unique interests. And in the spring of 2018, after a decade’s determined pursuit of knowledge, they graduated. We sat down with Shawn and Stephanie to learn a bit about their experiences as ICP majors as well as their experiences a husband-and-wife team of first-generation students.

 

Shawn and Stephanie Davison

 

How did you find out about ICP and why was it a good fit for you?

Stephanie: Shawn and I showed up to an information session, and that’s when we found out about ICP. We both liked the individualized aspect of the degree and that we could incorporate classes we’d already taken at the U. We had the same ICP adviser, Josh Borowicz, and he really made you think about what classes you wanted to take. The experience was really personalized. I chose to focus on psychology and applied business in my major.

Shawn: I liked that you could create your own degree at the U, taking everything that you’ve done and streamlining it. I wanted to create a specialized program to pull everything together into one degree that made sense, which you can do by designing a thematic degree in the ICP major. Mine was titled, “The Social and Business Applications of Biology.” Writing the proposal for the ICP degree allows you to logically think through everything and tie it together.

"I appreciated that you could take a couple recognized majors and combine them into one degree. You can take that into the workplace and build a specified career instead of something that’s undefined."

What do you appreciate about having an individualized degree?

Shawn: In a sense, it describes who you are. It really defines what your career is and where you want to go. It’s a culmination of all your experiences. You put that into a degree.

Stephanie: I appreciated that you could take a couple recognized majors and combine them into one degree. I didn’t have to choose between psychology and applied business; I combined them into one degree through ICP. You can take that into the workplace and build a specified career instead of something that’s undefined.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in choosing to be the first in your families to go to college?

Shawn: One big question we constantly faced was how to pay for our education. We had a lot of challenges around housing, too, and understanding the difference between types of degrees. The other thing we faced was learning the level of commitment and expectation that’s required to be successful.

Stephanie: Eventually we realized that there were scholarships available for first-generation college students. Jessica Haensch, who works in the financial aid department at CCAPS, is so wonderful. She sends out emails reminding students in CCAPS when the scholarship application deadlines are approaching. That poking really helps people like Shawn and me.

Shawn: We did apply, and we got scholarships. That helped with the challenge of paying for our educations.

 

Shawn and Stephanie Davison with Josh B.

 

How has this experience been for you as a married couple?

Stephanie: One thing I can tell you about doing this together is that it’s been really motivating. There have been times when you don’t feel motivated, or maybe you’re up till 2 a.m. cramming for a test or writing a paper that you waited too long to start. It’s at times like those that you start to feel flustered. Being married to somebody who’s going through the same thing gives you a chance to be understood. If one of us was slacking off, the other would offer a reminder about why we’re doing this. We validate each other and push each other.

Shawn: When one of us would find something useful or interesting, like when Stephanie discovered the Inter-College Program, we’d tell the other. There’s a lot of bonding.

You must have been so proud to graduate and to walk across that stage at CCAPS commencement.

Shawn: Definitely. And Bob Stine, the Dean who was reading graduates’ names, gave us a special call-out.  

Stephanie: Yeah, he totally did! He said, ‘Before I call the next two names, I just want to say these are very special people.’ Shawn was introduced as my husband, and Bob was saying how rare it is that a husband and wife graduate together in the same semester. The whole thing was really meaningful for me.

 

Stephanie is an Administrative Assistant and Events Coordinator for CCAPS’ College in the Schools program, and recently started a blog for first-generation students called First Gen Voices (you can read the blog here). Shawn is a Research Associate for Calyxt; he uses his education to do genetic testing and research on plants.

 

Shawn Davison is a recipient of the Osher Reentry and Larson Scholarships. Stephanie Davison is a recipient of the Harrison Scholarship.