Arts & Sciences

Celebrating first-generation students: senior Sherlean Roberts shares her experience and advice 

National First-Generation College Celebration Week occurs every year around Nov. 8 to acknowledge and elevate first-generation college students and alumni identities and contributions. Nov. 8 was selected as National First-Generation College Celebration Day in honor of the signing of the Higher Education Act 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.  

First-generation students make up 22% (more than 1 in 5) of the undergraduate student population at Marquette University, which honors the founding mission of being committed to increasing access to a transformative Catholic, Jesuit education.  

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

Meet Sherlean Roberts, a senior studying political science, international affairs and peace studies.  

Sherlean’s resume is impressive. She presented research as a McNair Scholar, interned for Rep. Gwen Moore (D – Wisconsin), volunteered with AmeriCorps weekly, and she is currently the vice president of the Lambda Lambda chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. 

“My time at Marquette University has been one for the books, and I’m just getting started,” Sherlean says. 

But her success is hard earned and there was a time in the not so distant past that Sherlean and her family were unsure how they were going to afford four years of a college education.  

“I was in programs such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee Graduation Plus and Marquette’s Upward Bound, which gave me the resources to succeed and find ways to obtain college at an affordable price,” Sherlean says. “When I was accepted into Marquette, I was relieved, but I knew it wasn’t possible until I received the scholarships to cover the cost. When I received the Burke Scholarship and Educational Opportunity Program acceptance, my heart was filled with joy not only knowing I was going to one of the best universities, but I was doing so debt free as the first person in my family to live this dream.” 

The Burke Scholarship is a four-year program for first-year, full-time undergraduate students who have a passion for social justice and a commitment to serve others. This full scholarship (tuition, fees, housing and food) is awarded annually to 10 academically talented Wisconsin high school seniors who exhibit leadership, have demonstrated exceptional commitment to community and aspire to pursue careers that benefit the public good.  

Sherlean also worked diligently to adjust to a new environment and life on campus.  

“Once I started taking classes I was excited, but I wasn’t sure if this was the environment for me. I was not the greatest at notifying people of my struggles with homesickness,” Sherlean recalls. “My family, (Burke Scholarship Director) Dr. Carie Hertzberg, the EOP family and the Graduation Plus team all believed in helping me along the way — pointing out additional resources to make sure I can be successful here and I am.” 

With the pressure of finances off the table and the support of a caring college community, it left more time for Sherlean to strive to be the best version of herself and become an upstanding member of the Marquette community with a promising future. She’s planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in political science starting in the fall of 2024. 

Sherlean offers this advice for incoming first-generation students: 

“As a first-generation student, you have accomplished so much by being here. This path won’t be easy, so make it comfortable and reach out to everyone until you have accomplished all the goals set forth by you. Stay you!” 

Learn more about Sherlean here

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