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First-Generation: Overcoming Obstacles + Giving Back

Alyssa Wallen, Communication Alumni, 2015

March 3, 2022

From a young age, I knew I wanted to write and connect with others as my “career.” Yes, I was the kid getting in trouble for talking too much in class and it paid off! Fast forward to post-high school graduation and not only was I lacking an understanding and resources to apply to college, but I had zero support from my family. After working several full-time jobs, talking with friends, and asking for help, I finally applied and was accepted into college at age 21.

Managing a full-time job and academic schedule was rigorous but the lessons I learned about perseverance, prioritization, and discipline have been invaluable throughout my career. Being a first-generation and transfer student means so many things. You’re often a full-time worker, full-time student, a new student to the University trying to navigate campus and resources, a friend, partner, parent, and so much more. Being a student, in general, is challenging but add any one of those aforementioned titles to the list and it’s definitely comparable to running a marathon uphill.

Upon graduation, I quickly learned that I had much to learn about the professional world. To my surprise, I faced challenges that were similar to those when entering college. I had no support to lean on for connections and didn’t know how to communicate my worth or experience. I’m happy to say that UC now has many great resources ( for first-generation students in place!

With much of my time taken up in college by my full-time job that paid the bills, I set goals that I believe are relevant for any new grad who’s looking to gain experience in their current role, communicate their value, and start a new career path. These not only helped launch my career but have been tactics I still use to this day.

1. Identify what you want to do with your COMM degree: I knew I wanted to work in a communication role in some capacity. This might take some research but it’s worth setting the foundation.
2. Seek + create opportunities to grow your experience: There have been several jobs I accepted that weren’t comms roles but I looked for opportunities to grow my communications experience through identifying gaps in the business and taking the initiative to create content, manage social media, and write press releases when possible. I obviously talked with my managers about this prior to taking on these additional responsibilities but this is a great way to grow your skillset!
3. If you’re looking for your first post-grad role or even a new role - set aside time at the end of each day to apply for jobs and be patient with the process: I applied for ~250 roles and attended many interviews over the course of a year before I landed my first role post-graduation.
4. Once you’re in your role, continue to seek opportunities to grow your experience and build your resume. Identify gaps in your current business and provide recommendations as appropriate.
5. Network, join professional organizations, and volunteer for board positions: I joined Friends of Communication, fine-tuned my LinkedIn, updated my personal brand, and made sure my professional presence was consistent across all platforms.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail and start over: I landed a communication role and realized after one month that the company culture didn’t align with my values or expectations. I made plans to leave the company and started over. This is okay! No amount of money is worth your peace of mind and healthy boundaries.

As graduates of the Department of Communication, we have the opportunity to give back to ensure current students are set up for success. I am specifically passionate about helping future-generation students achieve the goals they set out to accomplish through the mentorship program.

Are you interested in helping the next generation of professionals? There are a few ways you can contribute.

1. Learn more about our Mentorship Program and sign up to be the mentor you needed when you were younger.
2. Contribute to departmental scholarships to remove the financial obstacles current and future students may face.
3. Subscribe to the Friends of Communication newsletter to stay on top of the latest Department and Alumni news.

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