Arts & Sciences

Celebrating first-generation students: senior Michaela Drake shares her experience and advice 

National First-Generation College Celebration Day is Nov. 8 in honor of the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The act was intended to create greater access to higher education for students from minority and low-income backgrounds.  

In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their education, HEA ushered in the Federal TRIO programs, necessary for postsecondary access, retention and completion for potential first-generation college students. 

Honoring its founding mission, Marquette University is committed to increasing access and offering a transformative Catholic, Jesuit education to many first-generation students, who now make up more than 22% (1 in 5) of our undergraduate student population.  

In celebration of National First-Generation College Celebration Day, Marquette Today this week will feature four first-generation students at Marquette, who will share their experience and advice for future students. 

Meet Michaela Drake, a senior majoring in biological sciences…

For Michaela Drake, it was always just her, her brother and her dad. She went to a small school but had big dreams of going to college, something no one in her family had done before.  

“My dad didn’t go to college,” Michaela says, “but he still encouraged me to do my best and go for whatever I wanted. His motto has always been ‘the sky is the limit’ about going to college and throughout my life.” 

Despite getting into Marquette, Michaela says she had an overwhelming feeling that she was not good enough for college.  

“College was a mental challenge for me. I thought all the other students were excelling while I was struggling, but I’ve learned the reality is almost everybody in college is struggling just as much as you are in their own way,” she explains. “So, your own struggles are ok. You just have to stop worrying about everybody else and focus on your own journey.” 

It was her family that motivated Michaela to realize the importance of focusing on her own journey instead of comparing herself to others.  

“I realized I needed to focus on making myself proud and making my family proud. I think as a first-generation student, a good motivating factor is breaking the cycle,” Michaela says. “My biggest goal, what gets me through the day, is that one day I’m going to help my dad retire. You cannot focus on the struggle that you’re against or what’s going to keep you back. Instead, you have to focus on what you have in you that’s going to keep you going.” 

Michaela’s shift in mindset has allowed her to take advantage of many opportunities at Marquette.  

“College has opened my eyes to different opportunities out there, and it has provided a lot of networking opportunities,” she says. “I was able to apply for Marquette Mentors, where they match you with someone in your desired field. As a first-generation student, I didn’t know many people who were doctors, lawyers or journalists. So being able to talk to a professional on a personal level and then being able to see their career firsthand, was amazing.”  

She attributes a lot of her success at Marquette to great mentors who have helped her navigate college.  

“JohnRae Stowers, DJ Todd and Ben Kemp have helped me a lot. I don’t know how I would have gotten this far without them, honestly. The Urban Scholars Program within the Office of Educational Services at Marquette has been helpful educationally and emotionally,” Michaela says. 

Her advice to incoming first-generation students: really decide if college is for them. 

“Everybody’s journey is different,” Michaela says. “I would just say, do whatever you feel like is meant for you. Follow whatever you want to do, not what you feel like you can do. Go for it, and apply yourself because you never know what you can accomplish.”  

Marquette has many on-campus resources for student success. For resources specific to first-generation students, see the first-generation college students resource list