First-generation students are typically defined as first in their family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Being a first generation student, who doesn't have a family history of higher education, takes courage and determination and is an identity to be proud of. 

“‘Being the first in your family to attend college comes with a unique set of challenges and often our first-generation students, both undergraduate and graduate, feel invisible. As a first-gen student myself, I know this well. I am also aware of the great contributions that are made by our first-generation community members, faculty and staff included. Your experience and perspective make us better as an institution. It is wonderful that our three campuses can come together to elevate your success during what will be a special day throughout the nation,” said Rickey Hall, Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity.

On November 8 and throughout the month, universities across the U.S. are celebrating the success of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff. To celebrate first-gen students, DGH student and employee trailblazers who are first-generation students share their stories.

Sopheakvatey Chey

MPH Global Health student

Tell us about background

Sophie was born in Cambodia and moved with her mother and stepfather to Olympia in 2008. Her mother was the first in the family to achieve a high school diploma, but did not have the opportunity for higher education. Growing up, Sophie’s mom cultivated the value of higher education in her.

What’s your major?

Sophie is a first-year MPH student in DGH. She received her BA at UW Seattle in Medical Anthropology and Global Health.

Where do you find inspiration? What initiatives and networks are you involved in?

As an undergrad at UW, Sophie was inspired by the work of the United Nations, Doctors without Borders and Paul Farmer. She aspires to help relieve suffering and to “give back,” and has gotten involved in several non-profit causes.

As a student, she became involved in the UW Foundation’s Student Philanthropy Education Program. She also volunteered at Swedish Medical Center and interned at Global to Local in Sea-Tac. Sophie worked at the Seattle Asian Counseling and Referral Service as a Clinical Case Manager working with the Khmer community. At UW she got involved with the Khmer Student Association (KhSA), a Cambodian student association, which she found a supportive and welcoming space that was created for and advocates for this community of students.

What advice do you have for other first generation UW students?

First-generation students can face numerous challenges, including dealing with “imposter syndrome” (a perception that you don’t fit in or aren’t good enough or might not be qualified). Find community you feel comfortable in, and reach out to faculty who can support you. Take classes you are interested in.


Andreas Keodara

Graduate Advisor, MPH Program, Dept. of Global Health

Tell us about yourself

The child of Lao immigrants who came to the U.S. in 1986, Andreas grew up in Lacey, WA, outside of Olympia.

What was your major?

Andreas earned a BS in Environmental Science at Washington State University, and a Master of Environmental Studies at The Evergreen State College.

Where do you find inspiration? What initiatives and networks are you involved in?

Andreas has worked in non-profit and academic organizations, and gotten involved in LBGTQ2S+ and BIPOC groups, where he finds much of his inspiration. One challenge is that many non-profit and academic organizations are in predominantly white spaces, where non-white people’s commonalities are nuanced and not talked about in the everyday. Recognizing that people have many different experiences – in his case being first-gen, SE Asian and gay - means having to forge your own space.

What advice do you have for other first generation UW students?

You are seen, valued and needed. Being a first-gen and non-white identities can be tough, but you are not alone. Forge your own space, leveraging existing groups and individuals you can find – we are out here! And please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!


Alexandra Price

MPH Global Health student

Tell us about yourself

Alexandra grew up in Salem, OR, and attended McNary High School. Her father immigrated from the Philippines and her mom worked hard to keep food on the table. As a low-income student and without a family history of higher education, she did not know how to apply for college. She felt a big part of her success came from family support and AVID, a program for students that have barriers to going to higher education. She received a Diversity Excellence scholarship at University of Oregon, which enabled her education.

What was your major?

Alexandra is a first-year MPH student in DGH. She received her BS at the University of Oregon in Psychology and a minor in Global Health and Non-Profit Administration.

Where do you find inspiration? What initiatives and networks are you involved in?

Alexandra has worked in diverse settings, including an internship in Pune, India working in child, family health, and studied abroad through Semester at Sea. She has worked for multiple NGOs and recently worked as a Trauma Specialist at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, FL.

Alexandra is now a Research Asst. at Global WACh, UW in the Adolescent Transition to Adult Care for Adolescents Living with HIV in Kenya project. Through her varied experiences, she has developed an interest in global mental health and behavioral health and aims to work in broad population health/mental health with refugees and immigrants.

What advice do you have for other first generation UW students?

You belong - criticize the voice that says you’re an imposter, that you’re not smart enough, or you can’t afford this. Challenge that voice and keep forging ahead. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who inspire you, find a reliable mentor, and ask for their guidance. Reach out to resources that UW provides, especially now when it can be very isolating.


Daren Wade

Clinical Instructor, Global Health
Director, International Experiences & Career Resources, Dept. of Global Health

Tell us about yourself

Daren grew up in Johnstown, PA. His father was a meat cutter and his mother, trained as a beautician, worked from home for some spending money. At home, Daren’s interests in schoolwork and wanting to attain a college education was intimidating for his family, particularly when people talked about getting an education to “better yourself” which was understood to them as looking down on working people.

What was your major?

An interest in becoming a veterinarian brought Daren to the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked at the Penn veterinary hospital as a work-study student. Daren eventually developed a strong interest in social psychology and earned a BA in Psychology and a minor in Biology. He then went on to earn an MSW at UPenn that nurtured his passions in social justice and social change.

Where do you find inspiration? What initiatives and networks are you involved in?

In his early career Daren worked in a genetics lab at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital. Daren’s activism in the LGBTQ community led him to work with a Philly runaway and homeless youth organization where he established a social support group, which eventually became the city’s first LGBTQ Youth Center. After managing a foster care program for LGBTQ teens, Daren’s love of university life brought him back to academia, focusing on student services, first at Reed College in Oregon. At UW, he established the Global Health Resource Center (which after 16 years merged with the DGH’s Academic Programs and Student Services office), which administers global health funding and fieldwork programs and provides career advice to students. Seattle also attracted Daren by its thriving music, art, dance and international film scenes, where he got involved in film festivals and now focuses on Zumba as his creative and fitness outlet.

What advice do you have for other first generation UW students?

As a first-gen, coming from a family without experience on navigating college, I went into the unknown. As an undergrad, I felt different from other students and floundered at first with self-doubt, uncertainty, financial challenges. I questioned whether I belonged and whether I would say the right things. I didn’t know the pathways that could turn interests into reality, and in turn missed out - no one told me I could explore the world! So my advice to first-gens is to reach out and find people further along than you and seek their mentorship. Focus on people who you aspire to be like, respect and trust, and look for guidance from them. Mentors can affirm you and validate what you bring to a situation - go to them for reassurance and to nurture your dreams.

To help amplify diverse voices and build community at UW, we’d like to hear from more DGH first-gens. What has your experience been like as a first-gen? SHARE YOUR STORY email

Get involved in UW First Generation events happening this week:

First-Generation College Celebration: 

First Year Programs and Undergraduate Academic Affairs Advising have collaborated to offer a new opportunity to connect our first-generation students with our first-generation faculty & staff across the three UW campuses through “First Gen Faculty/Staff Chats”. These chats will be happening from this coming Monday, November 9th until November 20th with varying times to accommodate student class schedules. We have the capacity to offer space for 120 students to connect one-on-one with the faculty and staff who have volunteered their time. More info. Sign up.

Social Media Pride Week for First-Gen Graduate Students: 

In recognition of National First-Gen College Celebration Day, acknowledged locally across the University of Washington, first-gen graduate students are invited to show your pride via a live poll and on social media. Share why you are proud to be in the first generation of your family to earn a Bachelor’s degree—and now working towards a graduate degree. Say it loud and proud! Poll Everywhere:

  • Respond to the ‘show your pride’ poll: Text UWFIRSTGENGRADS to 22333 once to participate. 
  • The poll opens at 8 a.m. on Monday, November 9 and closes at midnight on Saturday, November 14.

Social Media:

Career Development Webinar for First-Gen Graduate Students: 

Thursday, November 12, 4–5 p.m., Online; Register for this free event:, Send questions to

Zoom link will be e-mailed to all registered participants a few days before the event. UW NetID required to log in to Zoom. 

Current UW first-gen graduate students across tri-campus are invited to this webinar to learn tips and strategies that are helpful towards your career development. A first-gen graduate student is an individual who is in the first generation of their family to earn a Bachelor’s degree—and is now working towards a graduate degree.

Learn about tools to help you:

  • Discover your career purpose
  • Manage imposter syndrome
  • Assess your strengths
  • Build skills
  • Grow your network and support system
  • Find success

This event is a collaboration between the First-Gen Graduate Student Advisory Board, Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs in The Graduate School, and Career & Internship Center (Seattle campus).

Learn more about UW First-Generation Graduate Students resources and programs.