Published on April 29, 2022  
Hardin Michael
First-Generation College Student J. Michael Hardin, Ph.D.
Samford University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Quantitative Analysis and Biostatistics
Fellow, American Statistical Association

I don’t know how most first-generation college freshmen now feel about starting college. What I remember is feeling embarrassed because I didn’t know what to do. Since neither of my parents had been to college, and I was their oldest child, I didn’t have anyone at home to ask. So, I tried to figure it out on my own.

Sometimes that didn’t work well. When I scheduled my first semester classes at what was then Okaloosa-Walton Junior College, I put an hour’s break between each class. I was worried I wouldn’t have time to get to class. I didn’t realize all my classes would be in one building! Since I didn’t want anyone to know I had nowhere to go during those breaks, I hid in the stacks in the library – which was also in the same building. I learned a lot about how books were organized, but not much else. It was a pretty horrible semester.

Another reason that semester was hard was that I was working my way through school. I didn’t know how to work with colleges for scholarships and other kinds of aid, and I didn’t know to ask. I did figure out after that first semester that I couldn’t work weekdays and also go to school, so I worked overtime each summer making Coca-Cola deliveries, starting at 5:30 a.m. and getting home at 9 p.m. During my sophomore year I also began taking Coca-Cola’s weekend inventories. I got pretty good at knowing how many soft drinks were on a shelf and predicting what would be sold each weekend, based on the store’s location. That actually helped me think about statistics and business – my lifelong focus of study.

But back then my focus of study was another problem. There was no one at home to talk about what I should major in. I wanted to major in philosophy, but my parents said philosophy wouldn’t get me a good-paying job. They said I should major in math, so I could work at the Math Lab at nearby Eglin Air Force Base. So, I doubled-up, majoring in philosophy and math. Both undergraduate degrees would later prove helpful in ways I couldn’t then imagine.

Looking back, I think there were people at my college who would have been willing to help me. I was just too afraid to ask. I thought everyone else knew how to do everything.

That’s why I’m so supportive of Samford’s First Generation program. Now that I’ve spent my entire career on college campuses, I know that no one knows how to do everything. That’s why no one should be afraid to ask questions. That’s why everyone should take advantage of all the expertise we offer, from financial services to career development – and so much more. That’s why these experts work here. We are all here to serve all students, from all backgrounds. 

So, my advice to First Generation students -- and to all other students -- is to not be embarrassed to ask questions. Don’t hide in the stacks!