First-Gen Forward Since 2021, Binghamton University has been designated as a First-Gen Forward Institution, joining hundreds of other educational institutions across the nation in committing to first-gen success.

Are you FIRST?

20-30%  of students who attend our University are first-generation.

What does first-generation mean?

  • Neither of your parents or guardians with whom you live earned a baccalaureate degree or higher.
  • Your parents or guardians may have attempted to go to college, but dropped out.
  • Your parents or guardians did not go to college at all, or may not have graduated from high school or grade school.
  • You are the first in your family to attend and graduate college, but could also mean you have an older sibling who may have already attended or graduated college.
  • Your parents or guardians may have earned a degree in another country, and are either:
    • unable to help their student navigate the American educational system.
    • unable to obtain a career in their educational field in this country.
  • You self-identify as first-generation college student, as you lack support and guidance from your parents or guardians (even though one or both may have degrees).

Mission Statement

The BFirst Network creates programming to (1) connect first-generation (FG) college students with FG faculty, staff, alumni, and graduate student mentors; (2) educate and empower those who share the FG identity; (3) educate and provide resources to inform faculty, staff and administrators on how best to support FG students; and (4) foster an inclusive campus community by spreading awareness about the FG identity.

Vision Statement

BFirst seeks to provide all first-generation college students of Binghamton University a true sense of belonging, by connecting them to first-generation faculty, staff, alumni, and other first-generation college students, and by providing spaces of inclusivity, understanding, and community.

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Benjamin Andrus

benjamin andrus

Social Science Librarian, Libraries

Both of my parents took a couple of classes at Broome Community College before becoming restaurant owners. Most of my childhood was spent there as many "restaurant kids" can relate to. I was not a great high school student but college was always an important goal. I went to SUNY Broome and the quality faculty there completely changed my academic outlook and trajectory. I was able to graduate and transferred to Binghamton where I completes my BA and MPA degree then went to ALBAY for my MSIS. I love Binghamton University and the students we attract. I am also fortunate enough to teach a freshmen class about my favorite topics which is National Parks. Being a Librarian is a great job which brings interesting opportunities to engage with other faculty and students. 

Clara Barnhart

clara barnhart


I grew up not far from Binghamton in the tiny town of Unadilla, NY. I went to Champlain College in Burlington, VT, where I studied Professional Writing. After graduation I worked as a tutor and residential counselor for at-risk teens for a couple of years before coming back to complete my MA and PhD in English and Creative writing at Binghamton University. I love books, anything active outdoors, chicken wings, noodles, and my dogs (if you come visit my office I'll show you lots of pictures of them)!

Mary Bogert

mary bogert

Graduate PhD Student, Teaching & Research Assistant, Biological Sciences

 I started my education at a two-year community college not knowing if I wanted to major in art or science. After just a few classes in my introductory biology course I realized I had to become a science major because of the all the unique animal and plant evolutionary adaptations I learned of. After earning my AS degree, I went on to earn a BS in Wildlife Biology with a minor in chemistry. Next, I earned a MS in organismal biology with my thesis research focusing on owl migration – I actually go into the forest and catch owls for my research! Now, I am a first-year PhD student who is still conducting research on owls; however, now I am also studying how to improve STEM education in- and outside of the classroom.

When I began school at community college, I often felt isolated and lost because I had no support system – I did not know if I had what it took to graduate. I found peers and mentors I could talk to which changed my whole outlook and now I am earning my PhD. I owe a large part of this to the people who I met early on, but also the many more along the way!

Barrett Brenton

barrett brenton

Faculty Engagement Associate, Center for Civic Engagement

Both of my parents graduated from high school but did not go on to college. My older brother and I dreamed of going to college starting when we were in grade school. He wanted to be a zoologist and I wanted to be an archaeologist. We both actually ended up getting our doctorates in our respective fields. It was not as direct of path as it seems. Our parents were very supportive of us, but we knew we had to cover the cost. Thus, we both went to a large public university. I always knew that I could fall back on the skills I had learned in the construction trade if it did not work out. I started out as a music major with scholarship support, Pell Grants, and loans. After my first year I switched to being an anthropology major and have not left higher education since. 

Lakshmi Bulathsinghala

lakshmi bulathsinghala

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Theatre/ AAAS/ Music/ WGSS

In 2008, Lakshmi came to the USA under a fellowship to further her studies and obtained her second Master’s Degree in Theatre and her PhD in Philosophy Interpretation and Culture from the State University of New York, Binghamton. She started teaching here as an adjunct lecturer in 2013 and continues as an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Departments of Asian and Asian American Studies, Music, Theatre, and Women Gender and Sexuality Studies. Since 2013 she has taught courses in “Gender and Sexuality in South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora”, “Women in Film: World Cultures”, “Imagining Women in South Asia”, “South Asian Culture and Society”, “Introduction to Indian Vocal Music”, “Dances of South Asia”, “Introduction to Asian Theatre”, and “Dance-drama Styles in India”.
Lakshmi also is a performing artist from Sri Lanka and has been actively engaged as an actress in theatre, television, and film and has directed and produced plays. She directed, produced, and starred in the celebrated play Bera Handa, adapted from Sophocles’s fragmentary play Iqneutae by the veteran Sri Lankan playwright, the late Mr. Bandhula Jayawardena and her directing activities at Binghamton include Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie and Lee Blessing’s Independence. Last year she produced and starred in the new television drama series Sulaga Mahameraka, which has been airing on the Sri Lankan national network; she will be starring and producing another television series in December 2019.

Arianny Cabrera

arianny cabrera

Law Student, Brooklyn Law School

I recently graduated from Binghamton University in May 2020 with a triple major in PPL, Sociology, and LACAS. I am currently a first year law student at Brooklyn Law School. I joined TRIO SSS before my freshman year through S4P. Throughout undergrad and now in law school, I have been interested in research in gendered violence such as human trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. I am currently doing the Uncontested Divorce Project for Battered Women Pro Bono Project. My hobbies include reading, arts and crafts, and trashy relationship reality shows.

Ryan Cadwell

ryan cadwell

Graduate Student, Research Project Assistant, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Hi! I did my BS in Electrical Engineering at Binghamton University and am doing an MS in the same field now also at Bing. I am currently doing research in printed and RF electronics. Undergrad was a lot of figuring things out without knowing what to expect or what to look for or what to do, but I ended up getting through it! I was involved in Hinman College Council and some other clubs. I found close friends and succeeded in getting the degree, but not without learning from failures. I hope I can share what I've learned and that it will be helpful for someone. Hobbies include: badminton, soccer, hiking, sketching, other things. 

Wanyan Cai

wanyan cai

Alumni, Bachelors Degree in Biological Sciences

As a biological science student, I believe the most difficult part of being first generation college student is challenge ourselves and looking for the future I truly wanted. I've spend a long time to discover my favor major in college, I believe if we never give up, we will be success and achieve our dream at some point in university. 

Kristin Calegari

kirstin calegari

Assistant Director of Residential Life, Residential Life

*BA from Assumption College in Worcester, MA in Biology with a minor in Spanish. As an undergraduate, was an RA, involved in Hall Council and Student Activities/Campus Programming - Met my husband as an RA
*M.Ed from Springfield College in Springfield, MA in Counseling and Psychological Services with a concentration in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education.
*Professionally have worked as a Resident Director and Area Coordinator at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, a Resident Director at Westfield State University in Massachusetts and back at Western New England University as an Area Coordinator.
*Assistant Director of Residential Life here at Binghamton for 16 years and in that time have been the AD of Hinman for 5 years, Newing for 4 years (including seeing Newing through demolition, building and opening of new newing) and the Apartments for 7 years. This year I'm overseeing both the Apartments and Mountainview. I also teach UNIV classes here at BU, am the AD that oversees RA Selection, have developed the transfer initiative in the Apartments, developed and taught an online course for parents of first-year students, conceived of the Career Consultant in Residence positions between Res Life and Fleishman and was the AD who started Hinman theme week. Beyond Residential Life, my other areas of professional interest are parent/family relations and K-12 to Higher Education transition and access.
*Personally, my husband and I live locally in Endicott and have two daughters. Autumn, my oldest, just transferred to Binghamton from Broome, lives on campus (but is very excited to be living off-campus in her own apartment next year!) and is a junior music major, who is hoping to minor in education and pursue a career as a middle school music teacher. My youngest daughter Abbie is a freshman in High School who plays both soccer and lacrosse. Some of my hobbies and interests are reading, trip planning and watching my youngest play soccer and lax and my oldest daughter perform. I love cats, because they're sassy balls of fur and my guilty pleasure is sci-fi fantasy books and tv/movies.
*Biggest Challenges as a first gen student - Definitely financial - the bulk of my education for both undergraduate and graduate education at two private liberal arts colleges, was through financial aid and student loans. I'm still paying on these loans almost 25 years later.
*Biggest Successes - being part of a dual career family and raising two wonderfully strong daughters. Also, being able to receive my Master's degree and using my experience and now knowledge of higher education to help students of today.

Sandra Casanova-Vizcaíno


Assistant Professor of Spanish, Romance Languages and Literatures

I am the second daughter of immigrants from Spain. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but I have also lived in Spain, Argentina, and the United States, so I consider myself an immigrant as well. As an undergraduate, I attented the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras where I majored in Hispanic literature and French. I also went to the University of Pennsylvania where I completed a PhD in Hispanic Studies. As a first generation student, I received full support from my parents, but mentorship on University life was very hard to find. That is why I am fully committed to public education and to first generation students who struggle to find their place in college. My research interests are Puerto Rican literature and culture, and horror fiction. I enjoy indoor gardening, hiking, and traveling with my husband and my son.

Robyn Cope


Assistant Professor of French, Romance Languages and Literatures

I grew up in Ohio. My mom was a secretary, and my dad was a millwright and UAW (United Auto Workers) man. I earned a BA in French from Miami University, an MEd and K-12 French teaching certificate from Xavier University, and a PhD in French from Florida State University. It took me 22 years to do that! In between and along the way, I worked in service and parts for a machine tool company and as a high school French teacher. As a first-generation college student, I sometimes struggled with imposter syndrome, wondering if I truly “belonged." Here at Binghamton, I specialize in French Caribbean literature and culture. My research and teaching revolve around two fundamentally human questions: “What is freedom?” and “How do people get it?” One of my very favorite parts of being a professor at Binghamton has been the opportunity to get to know and mentor students inside and outside the classroom. In my free time, I like to spend time in the garden, in the woods, or around the table with family and friends.

Zoraya Cruz-Bonilla

zoraya cruz-bonilla

Data Research Analyst, Student Affairs Assessment and Strategic Initiatives

My father completed some college course work but did not complete it. My mother grew up in the country side of El Salvador and did not have access to school beyond 6th grade. Despite financial, language, and cultural barriers, they managed to bring to the United States... by plane... woohoo! Several years later, I was the last of three children to receive a Bachelor's degree at a SUNY institution and did it with the rest of my peers (i.e., in 4 years). Most recently, I received my master's degree while working full-time at Binghamton University. #perseverancecounts

Steve Czarnecki

steve czarnecki

Associate Director, S3IP Center of Excellence

From early age growing up in the Chicago area, I was fascinated by how things work and by middle school decided to become an electrical engineer. My parents, who also were immigrants to the U.S., placed high emphasis on learning, a strong work ethic, and achievement. They, and others such as my teachers, and later, supervisors while I was an undergraduate student and my graduate research advisor gave me strong encouragement in my studies, as did camaraderie with classmates from elementary school through graduate school, some of whom remain lifelong friends. I attended General Motors Institute (now named Kettering University), a small college owned and operated by General Motors at the time for the purpose of training engineers to work in the company. It was a cooperative (co-op) education program, and every six weeks I alternated between work assignments in a GM locomotive factory and academic sessions at the college. After earning a bachelor degree in electrical engineering, I proceeded directly to graduate study at Princeton University, earning a PhD there. After completing the doctorate, I started a job with the IBM plant here in Owego, NY, which eventually became part of Lockheed Martin corporation. I retired from there as a director of advanced technology after 30 years with the company, and joined Binghamton University in 2013 to manage the S3IP Center of Excellence. Outside of work, my wife and I live on large rural property among woods and fields with our St. Bernard dog, Abby. Among other things, when not riding on my tractor mowing grass or plowing snow, I am driving my Corvette or busy with gardening, beekeeping, amateur astronomy, music listening, piano practice, making ice cream, cooking and baking, reading, cheering the NY Yankees, or just simply enjoying the outdoors and the company of friends.

Jah Davis

jah davis

Assistant Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

My name is Jah Davis and I am a Assistant Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Pratt Institute. I am originally from Brooklyn, NY and was the first of my family to attend college. Fortunately, my family provided moral support throughout my academic journey. I pursued my undergraduate studies at SUNY Cortland and graduated with a degree in Africana Studies. Through student leadership, I was able to build community away from home, get more involved on campus and gain meaningful contacts. I continued on to graduate school at Binghamton University to pursue a Masters degree in Student Affairs Administration. My passions include social justice, inclusivity, college student development and equity for marginalized groups.

Heather Dorn


Intructor, Writing Initiative

I grew up in poverty and was the first in my family to go to college, my mother achieving a high school diploma and my father earning his GED. Mentors helped me recognize my potential and I went on to study the importance of mentors to the success of women, students of color, and non-trad students, who can be shut off from the informal dissemination of information and opportunities. My other specialties include writing studies, motherhood studies, and digital medias. I publish my writing and run community poetry workshops as well. In my spare time I make Shrinky dink jewelry, karaoke, and worship my cat Frank. 

Casey Doyle

casey doyle

Visiting Assistant Professor, Philosophy

I grew up in New Hampshire. Neither of my parents attended college, and few from my extended family completed college. As an undergraduate, I was the recipient of a scholarship which I learned, after doing some research, was aimed at students of "exceptional need and promise". (I still don't know the intended scope of "exceptional".) Then I received my PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and completed Post-Docs in Oxford and in the Czech Republic before coming to Binghamton mid-pandemic. I have navigated quite a few different academic environments as a first-gen student, and am keen to chat with students who feel out of place in the university setting. 

Katie Ellis

katie ellis

Senior Director for Communications and Marketing

I am one of seven siblings (I’m #5) who are all first-gen college graduates — all successful in their careers after having put themselves through college. World War II ended any hopes of my father pursuing higher education, and my mother was a nurse who earned a Bronze Star serving in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during the war. My father was ill from the time I can remember and became totally unable to work by the time I was 11. With no money to speak of, I relied on scholarships and financial aid to put myself through school — working in the library all four years and even joining the chorus because it paid a small stipend. My college orientation started when one of my brothers dropped me off (with my trunk) in front of my residence hall and drove away. I was on my own for the first time in my life. Luckily, my education has served me well and I love what I do at Binghamton University. I would not have had a successful career without earning a degree.

Erica Garay

erica garay

Neutral Arbitrator and Mediator of Commercial and Employment Claims, Garay ADR Services

I am an attorney. I served as a partner at law firms, doing litigation. I was very active in the business community, serving on a number of nonprofit boards. I founded and was on the board of several women’s organizations. I now have my own company and serve as an arbitrator and mediator in employment and commercial cases. 

Michelle Gardner

michelle gardner

Senior Director of Foundation Relations and Campaign Gift Strategies, Development Office, Division of Advancement

When I entered Carleton University on Ottawa, Canada in the fall of 1983, I was the first in my immediate family to attend university. Neither of my parents had graduated from high school and my only sibling still had three years of high school ahead of him. Both of my parents achieved small town success but they were confident that with a university degree, I would do better and experience more (even if they were not sure what that might mean). I paid for school with a combination of financial aid and loans (we really did not have the money for school) – I was a good but not great student so no scholarships. When I graduated with my BA in English, I tried several paths and finally found my fit as a professional fundraiser -- a career that my family was unaware was even a job. I recently graduated with my MS in Systems Science from Binghamton – a long, long path from that English degree to engineering school! I’m an active volunteer who enjoys travel (16 countries and counting!), cooking, gardening and a good adventure.

Kim Garrison

kim garrison

Assistant Director, Housing and Residential Life

While I am no longer at Binghamton, I would enjoy connecting about the first gen experience. I have been working with students in residence halls for more than a decade. I enjoy being active, playing sports, spending time with my two kiddos and partner, and am a foodie.

As an undergrad, I needed help navigating the many levels of the campus I was on. Being a student athlete, my coach encouraged me to connect with an anthropology professor whose class I was struggling in at mid-terms to get a better grade. We built a great relationship through office hours and follow up meetings, they became one of my favorite professors, and I have a degree in anthropology because of them. 

Omid Ghaemmaghami

omid ghaemmaghami

Associate Professor, Arabic & Near Eastern Studies

Omid Ghaemmaghami is Associate Professor of Arabic and Near Eastern Studies in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) studies program at Binghamton University. He holds a PhD in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from the University of Toronto, an MA in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and certificates in advanced Arabic from the Dalalah Institute in Damascus and the American University in Cairo (AUC). Omid has taught and lectured on Arabic and Islamic Studies at universities and academic institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Egypt. He is passionate about promoting unity in diversity and contributing to the betterment of the human race.‎

Sophia Givre

sophia givre

Director, Upward Bound Program

I was a first-generation college student from a low-income family that was unaware of how to take advantage of the resources available to me. Even though I was an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student at one of the colleges I attended, I didn’t utilize the program the way I should have. I thought I could manage everything on my own and that if I worked hard, opportunities would come my way. I also didn’t want to share any of the obstacles I was facing with anyone or ask for help because I thought people would judge me. Over the years, I learned that I didn’t have to do everything on my own. So, as a graduate student and Clark Fellow, I utilized the community and resources that were available to me. I ended up receiving a Ph.D. in Sociology with a concentration on inequalities in education. I spent some time as a counselor for an Opportunity Program and absolutely loved it. Now that I am no longer in that role, I want to continue mentoring students that share similar experiences so I can help them learn from my mistakes and accomplishments.

Fernando Guzman

fernando guzman

Professor, Mathematical Sciences

Professor Fernando Guzmán obtained his undergraduate degree at Universidad de Antioquia, in Colombia where he grew up. He, and his siblings are first generation college students. He then moved to the US to obtain his PhD at Syracuse University in 1985. Since then, he has been a faculty member at Binghamton, where in addition to teaching and research, he has been heavily involved in programs that promote diversity and inclusion of underrepresented minorities.

Jonathan Hagofsky


Graduate Teaching Assistant, Philosophy

I am a PhD student in Social, Political, Ethical, and Legal Philosophy. It is a fact about me that feels no less strange today than it did four years ago when I started out here. College wasn't/still isn't the norm where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Rurality continues to affect the way that I experience my first-gen identity, and that is something that I would like to continue to think about and explore with other students.

Alicia Hibbard

alicia hibbard

Academic Counselor, TRIO Student Support Services

Neither of my parents received Bachelor’s degrees; my father was in the air force and took some college courses and my mother, the first of her family to consider college, received her associate’s degree in technology from SUNY Broome. Both of my parents valued education, so they encouraged me to pursue a degree. Since I thought I was going to be a Fashion Designer, I received my BS in Human Ecology conc. Apparel & Textiles and Art conc. Design with a minor in Business/Economics from SUNY Oneonta. Being a country girl at heart, I realized I wasn’t going to move to a big city, so I focused my energy on Graphic Design. I received two academic scholarships to attend and also worked as a residential advisor for three years (my first taste of working in higher education). After graduating, I began working in marketing. While I loved the design work, I didn’t feel like I was making a meaningful difference, so I decided to get back into higher education. My passion is to help others discover their path and help to break down any barriers that stand in their way to achieving their dreams. Playing soccer, mountain biking, hiking, traveling, singing and finding crafty activities are among my favorite things to do.

Courtney Ignarri

courtney ignarri

Assistant Dean for Graduate Affairs

I didn’t quite realize the impact of being a first-generation student until I was almost done with my bachelor’s degree. My Dad was a mechanic and my Mom stayed at home or worked odd jobs over the years. They each had a high-school degree and had taken a few community college courses but had not gone further.  As an undergraduate student I found a good amount of support on campus and amongst my peers, and my parents were able to help me navigate some of those challenges as well. It was really when I began applying for graduate school and then enrolled in a PhD program in social psychology that I found it more difficult to connect with my parents about my education and use them as a resource.  I was entering a world they were totally unfamiliar, with and the strategies they would normally offer weren’t helpful. I definitely experienced imposter syndrome in graduate school and felt that I didn’t belong. I also felt some resentment from one of my parents such that when I did talk about my education it was assumed I was judging them for not having more than a high school diploma. I earned my Ph.D. in 2011, and I am so proud of my journey through that difficult time and into my career. I’ve worked at Binghamton for 8 years, starting as an academic advisor before moving to a graduate affairs coordinator position and now to my role as assistant dean. I would love to help other students as they grapple with the challenges of being a first-generation student.

Karen Jones

karen jones

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

My dad died in a car accident when I was 12 years old, leaving my mom to raise my brother and I as a widow, a single parent. We were fortunate to have the support of my grandmother and other relatives. My mom also informed my brother and I of the importance of education, specifically college; that an education was something that no one can ever take away from you. For us, it was not a matter of if we were going to college, but rather which college we were going to attend. 

Claire Kovacs

claire kovacs

Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Binghamton University Art Museum

Claire Kovacs is the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Binghamton University Art Museum. Her road to a museums career was winding and took a few detours to chemical engineering and art history (she is happy to tell you the story in person). She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Case Western Reserve University – all in art history. She curated exhibitions at the Figge Art Museum, Coe College, and the Krasl Art Center, and the Augustana Teaching Museum of Art. Her strategies for programming and exhibitions emphasize the ways that academic museums explore contemporary issues, foster interdisciplinary inquiry, create space for a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, and function as a site of dynamic community engagement. She emphasizes intersectional equity, diversity, accessibility and inclusion in collections, exhibitions, and programming. Her research practice grapples with ways that art historical research can support ‘The Common Good’ (to borrow a phrase from the NEH), using curatorial practice and writing as a mechanism by which to amplify under-told stories. She participated in the 2018 Getty Leadership Institute’s NextGen program, as well as the NEH/Newberry Library Summer Institute on Art and Public Culture in Chicago. She co-hosted The Gallery Gap, a WVIK podcast that examines in/equity in museum exhibitions, programs, and collections. 

Michael Lam

michael lam

Graduate Assistant, Sustainable Communities

I am an alumni and current graduate student at SUNY Binghamton. I majored in Biology after being undecided for a year, and ended up joining a plant research lab. I then went on to pursue a masters degree in Sustainable Communities, with a focus in flood resiliency. In my free time, I like to garden and dance. My greatest obstacle is in understanding how to prioritize my goals in life, and coming to terms with the fact that life is never easy, but it only gets harder if you let it get to you. 

Fabienne Lescouflair

fabienne lescouflair

Alumni, Master's Degree in Social Work

After my parents divorced, I began to struggle in school. My new broken at-home life definitely contributed to my depression. As a stubborn teenager,  I did not seek help and/or talk about my feelings about their divorce. At the time, I felt betrayed and that what I felt did not matter. I began to miss many days of school from oversleeping past my alarms (a sign of depression), which led to my truancy issues. I never intended on skipping school and I was an A-average student athlete, before my parents' announcement flipped my world upside down. Accepting this new change/transition was my biggest barrier and it caused me to be misunderstood by school professionals. Instead of asking me about my sudden decline in attendance and grades, they chose to judge me by my actions. Instead of simply asking me what was going on, the counselor called me a "lost cause" during a school district meeting about my poor attendance. Being the only person of color in that room and fully embarrassed in front of superior school professionals who did not stand up for me -  that was the moment I decided to prove her wrong and do better for myself! I worked hard to graduate, even though it was a year later than my anticipated graduation date. I moved on to a 2-year college (SUNY Orange) and was the first person in my immigrant family to receive a degree. I then transferred to a 4-year college (SUNY New Paltz) for my Bachelor's and went on to Binghamton University to finish up my Master's in Social Work. My message to all first generation students out there is: Anything is possible, even if others don't believe in you. All you need to do is, believe in yourself. Now I am a Social Worker helping others and most importantly, spreading kindness! I love how my journey pushed me into a career that supports and advocates on the behalf of individuals who face developmental, mental health, or other life challenges!

Hal Lewis


Associate Professor, Systems Science and Industrial Engineering

I was a local student here at Binghamton as well as 1st generation. I graduated HS (Susquehanna Valley) in 1974, and immediately enrolled on this campus with the benefit of a Regents Scholarship, majoring in math. I graduated in 1977 and went to Japan to work in industry there. I came back to this area during the 1980s working in local industry while doing part-time graduate studies. In 1990, I went back to Japan again to teach at Fukushima University, and in 1998 got a chance to come back to Binghamton in a faculty role. I love teaching and I love mentoring students. Feel free to contact me especially if you are a local and/or 1st gen. student.

Edgar Lopez

edgar lopez

Graduate Student, Masters in Social Work, Binghamton University

I always enjoyed researching the taboo or the topics that involve discussing about historical and contemporary forms of discriminations the US have taken a part of throughout our lifetimes and prior. I graduated and earned my bachelors majoring in Human Development with an Education minor, directly after in May 2021 (2 years later) I will attain my Masters in Social Work from Binghamton University as well. Some interesting things are that one I met the love of my life, the moment I transferred to BU in my undergrad, and we're still going strong almost 4 years later, which both her and myself never anticipated that to happen to begin with. Another is that I've been raised and been surrounded by the most empowering and self-driven women in my life, and my mother is one of them, which is why most if not all my motivations and inspirations come from them. Lastly, I guess would say from what other people that know me tell me is that I am "multi-talented", which I am usually doubtful with, since I was young I always was fascinated with arts, history, such as writing poetry, non-fiction, and fictional pieces, and in my spare time other than researching, I write rap lyrics, just because I enjoy the multi-layered meanings behind lyricisms etc. I am mainly an open book, so if there's anything anyone wishes to know about me, or learn more about myself feel free to always ask. 

Edward Lopez

edward lopez

Director of IT & DevOps

My parents never finished high school because of the Great Depression and WW2. I went to NYC schools in the 70s when the city was broke. I relied on my local library for all kinds of books to read and learn about the world and history. When I first got to Binghamton I struggled with culture shock of Binghamton but also my peers from suburban lifestyles. I had difficulty navigating the system when I was locked of required classes.I was afraid to ask for help and felt different. I am also first generation from Spain so not really Spanish because I was not fluent in spanish and not really american because of cultural differences. It was a tough time for me but also very big personal growth time..I am now successful engineer at emerging technical startups in Silicon Valley. I owe so much of my success to my time at Binghamton.

Patricia Lorquet

patricia lorquet

Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) Candidate 2023

I am a graduate student in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical sciences. I attended University at Buffalo and obtained a Bachelors in Biological Sciences. I am the first in my family to graduate college as well as pursue a Doctorate degree. I am originally from New York City and I am very involved in the running community there. I am a youth running coach with New York Road Runners where I mentor college-bound high school seniors to run their first 5K (3.1 mile) road race. A fun fact is I have ran from San Francisco, CA to Brooklyn, NY to benefit the Ulman Foundation, a direct services organization supporting young adults with cancer. 

Tee Malachi

tee malachi

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Graduate Assistant, Residential Life

My story is rooted in loneness, doubts, rejection, and sadness and you know what? Sometimes it hurt, and I didn’t understand why it had to be me? It was a long journey full of confusion and distrust but despite living my life with a wall around my emotions there was two individuals who saw through the façade and the barricades and showed me the warmness every adolescent seeks and changed my view on the world indefinitely. So, as a leader inspired by their kindness and gentleness, I chose a path that catered to the past me and my ideals! I set my goal, and when that was achieved, I set another one and another one. I’m determined to break the chains of stereotypes and ridicule because reimagining my leadership allows me to channel my experiences, my successes, and failures into the birth of the resilience needed to shatter the invisible glass ceilings waiting for me on my journey. My goal is to become a social worker who understands my life matters and that those I help life matters too! My endurance through my trial and tribulations gives me the power to move forward to inspire others and showcase a story that most wouldn’t overcome. I am driven solely by the passion that burns within me and the voice in my head telling me I can go further and that with every step I take, I’m a little closer to a goal I wouldn’t have imagined before.

Stacy Marrow

stacy marrow

Director, CCPA Career and Professional Services, College of Community and Public Affairs

I started Binghamton University as a Colonial and graduated as a Bearcat! College was more than hard to navigate with no frame of reference; I had no idea what to do, and failed abysmally. I had to figure it out on my own with no support, and missed many opportunities because I simply had no idea they existed. Supporting First Gen students in any way I can is top priority for me for the reasons I just mentioned. I hope I can use all I learned in my struggles to help students avoid some obstacles. Something fun, or at least kind of unique about me is that I have seen every single episode of Law and Order SVU at least once. I look forward to connecting.

Wendy Martinek

wendy martinek

Professor, Political Science

I received my BA in government and philosophy at Lawrence University. Though I am grateful for the opportunities I had there, my socio-economic background (I was poor) compared to that of my peers (they were definitely not poor) made me feel like a fish out of water. After working for several years in unsatisfying jobs, I started graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I ultimately earned my MA in political science there (despite not really knowing what I was doing) and then transferred to Michigan State (where I found my passion for studying law and courts) for my PHD. I love hunting for treasures at thrift stores and flea markets (especially vintage travel maps and pamphlets), adore my two great nephews and three great nieces (who are the absolute loves of my life), and am a diehard fan of my native state of Wisconsin (yes, I am a cheesehead).

Katelan Martinez

katelan martinez

Assistant Residential Coordinator, Residential Life

My father never graduated from high school so being the first one to graduate from high school was a big deal in my family. In my undergrad, I went to Penn State University where I got my bachelor's degree in Literature. My time at Penn State was spent being on the swim team, working multiple student affairs offices, and reading. I am a graduate student now, studying for my Master in Student Affairs and Master in Public Administration. I will graduate next year. Being the first-generation college student can be difficult at times but having tenacity and motivation to pursue my dreams is what keeps me going every day.

Brendan McGovern

brendan mcgovern

Program Coordinator, Geography

I was born in Queens. Bartended during high school and then bought into a local bar on the Queens / Nassau County border while also working as a journalist, writing and editing local newspapers. As I neared 30 years, I knew that wanted more out of life so I went back to school, double majoring in Philosophy and Geography at SUNY Cortland. I was recruited by Binghamton University Geography in 2006, received my MA and have never left. Binghamton University has been good to me. I love working here and have been fortunate to make terrific friends on campus.

Peter McKenney

peter mckenney

Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

I'm originally from a small town in the Utica area in Upstate New York. I earned a BS in Molecular Biology from SUNY Fredonia and went to Binghamton for 1 unhappy semester as a transfer student in 1996. I was a small town kid and Bing was just too big for me at the time. It was also my first real exposure to people from New York City, and they all talked way too fast. Neither of my parents went to college after high school. My father was an enlisted man in the US Navy and my mother was a social worker for New York State. My mother eventually did earn a Bachelors degree in her late 40s. I was always told I should go to college, but not much beyond that. I didn't really learn how the system works until I stumbled into a job as a lab technician at Harvard Medical School a couple of years after I graduated. Twenty five years later I'm happy to be back at Binghamton and after spending 15 years in New York City myself as a Ph.D. student and a postdoc, I can keep up with the fast talkers this time.

Ryan Mead


Coordinator of Academic Support Services, Educational Opportunity Program

I was born and raised in the small village of Livingston Manor located in upstate NY. I was never supposed to go to college, but instead join the military. After suffering some health issues, I wasn't able to enlist and I decided to enroll in my local community college. It was there that I was exposed to a much larger world than the one I knew and it was there that I began pursuing larger dreams that only a college career could fulfill. After a lot of years, and some breaks in between, I was able to obtain my PhD in Sociology. While I currently work as the coordinator of academic support services for the Educational Opportunity Program, I am still an avid learner, reading anything that interests me at the moment, and I still teach a course in Sociology at the community college that gave me my start.

Ann Merriwether

ann merriwether

Instructor, Psychology

I come from a long line of people who were florists and gardeners, and they gave me a love of nature.  My parents owned a thriving greenhouse business and florist shop in Malvern Pennsylvania. They wanted all their children to go to college and become whatever they wanted to become.  I earned my BA, MA and PhD from Penn State, all in psychology, after beginning my academic study in animal science.  I’m now an instructor at Binghamton University for the Department of Psychology.  I’m also affiliated with Women Gender and Sexuality Studies and the University Presidential Scholars program.  I do research on sexual socialization and reproductive health attitudes and enjoy working with other colleagues and students here at Binghamton.  I love teaching and teach everything from large introductory courses to small seminars.  My courses cover the topics of gender, sex, birth and death. I retained my interest in animal science and agriculture.  My husband (also a Binghamton faculty member) and I bought a farm in Vestal New York in 2002.  When not teaching or doing research, I love working on the family alpaca and sheep farm with my husband, two daughters, Kenni and Helen and the family dogs. I’m still very passionate about nature and gardening. 

Jessica Midyette

jessica midyette

Academic Counselor, TRIO Student Support Services

I am a native of the area, I graduated right from Binghamton High School. I moved on to getting my bachelor degree from the University at Buffalo. I double majored in Psychology and African American Studies. Even though my father graduated with a B.S in Accounting from Binghamton University, applying and attending college for me was a HUGE learning experience. I could not have completed college without the assistance and support I received from UB's EOP program. Currently, my father and I are the only people in our family who have successfully completed 4 yr degrees, and I am the first to obtain a Master's.

Amanda Minaker

amanda minaker

Doctoral Student, TLEL

I am currently researching resilience in low SES communities, particularly surrounding adolescent student motivation. I started as a GED student from a nearby town, went to a community college at age 19 and now have earned a BFA, and M.Ed., MA and an M.Ed.L.

Alyssa Miville

alyssa miville

Clinical Psychology PhD Student, Psychology

Coming from a low-income, single-parent household where I experienced significant housing and food insecurity, I looked to education as my ticket towards hope for the future. Through rigorous dedication and a commitment to my studies and service to others, I was able to forge my way through the economic struggle of being a college student by way of scholarships -- but navigating my undergraduate journey would not have been possible without the help of financial aid advisors and professors who knew of my determination to make things work. My passion for serving others and giving back to the community has only been strengthened since attending my undergraduate institution, and I chose to work in the nonprofit sector for two years following graduation. Despite loving what I was doing, I still had my heart set on attending graduate school someday, and after facing rejections from numerous schools over those few years, I was finally accepted into my current funded PhD program, which still feels very surreal! Being able to study what fascinates me most, that of the influence of religion and spirituality in the context of relationships, has been thrilling -- and I'm so excited to be in a position where I have the opportunity to share my voice and guide others in a multitude of ways. Outside of my work, some of the things that bring me joy include ballroom dancing, bullet journaling, drawing, and smoothies!

Heidi Morton

heidi morton

Assistant Director for Student Success, Financial Aid and Student Records

I grew up on a dairy farm in northwestern Pennsylvania and was the only person in my family to go to college. My parents had always stressed to me and my sister that it was important to get an education so that we could have "better lives than them," but none of us really had any clear sense of exactly how that worked. I had no idea what I was doing with myself throughout my undergraduate career, I just knew that I had to get a degree. Luckily, I got involved in different organizations and roles on campus, including as an RA, that helped me to develop the skillsets to get my foot in the door working in higher education. I started out working in Res Life at SUNY Cortland and then here at Binghamton. Later on I completed my masters degree (also, here at Binghamton!) and went on to work in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion at Clark University and in the Career Development Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In my spare time I love to have adventures with my wife, read (esp. anything that falls under the speculative fiction umbrella), knit/crochet, and enjoy the outdoors through hiking, kayaking, and puttering around in the flower beds in my yard. 

Diksha Nayar

diksha nayar

Resident Director, Residential Life

My name is Diksha and I'm currently a resident director with the reslife department at binghamton. I went to undergrad at Stony Brook University where I studied Psychology and Sociology and was involved in research with the psychology department for over 2 years. My parents both immigrated here from India and my sister and I are first generation college graduates on my father's side. My sister figured out her application process helped me with mine and we were both able to help my brother and we realized through this the application process changes every few years and so it was a starting over/learning process for each of us. Aside from human behavior I also enjoy reading and walks with my dogs. I find that my parents' immigration story is a huge part of mine and consisted of both obstacles and success of their own in every aspect of my life. 

Troy Norton

troy norton

Resident Director, Residential Life

Hello! My name is Troy Norton (he/him), and I'm a Resident Director at Binghamton, having started in this role in August 2021. I graduated from the University at Albany in May 2017 with my Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Philosophy, then again in December 2018 with a Master of Arts in Political Science. I've long been drawn toward working with students, though over the past several years I've explored various routes through which I can do this. I proudly embrace my background and many identities - namely, for me, a white, cisgender, asexual male raised in a low-income, single-parent family to be a first-gen student. And I want to empower folks to feel similarly proud of their backgrounds and identities - whatever they may be. Some fun facts: I love BoJack Horseman, The Sopranos, and WWE (I was at WrestleMania 35!), and try though I might, I simply cannot go easy on you if I play against you in Mario Kart Wii. Looking forward to meeting and working with new folks through this awesome initiative!

Laurel O'Connor

laurel o'connor

Binghamton Fund Coordinator, Advancement

I'm a Syracuse-area native who moved to the Binghamton area a few years ago. My undergraduate degree is in Spanish from SUNY Cortland, and my graduate degree is from Drew University in Madison, NJ. When I first started getting ready for college, my parents were both HS graduates so we definitely struggled to navigate the system and I ended up with a few unnecessary loans... I remember not even knowing what a FAFSA was and not knowing who to call at the college for certain things. When I decided to transfer to another college (to SUNY Cortland from SUNY Fredonia), I ran into another slew of challenges and ended up taking Freshman Composition as a Junior! But I graduated and am happy with my undergraduate experience. Before coming to Binghamton University I was an Associate Pastor in a church in Endicott, and have a small business called Affirm Fundraising that helps ministries fundraise (no chicken bbqs, please!). I have two children and live in Johnson City, and joined Binghamton University as staff so I can help them grow their Binghamton Fund and continue to support students through scholarships and other unique ventures (like BFirst!). 

Matt O'Ryan

matt oryan

Academic Advisor, Harpur Academic Advising

Hi there! My name is Matt O'Ryan! I use he/him/his pronouns, and I am a proud Binghamton alum and first-generation college student! I transferred to Binghamton in my junior year, and graduated with my BS in Human Development. I then continued at Binghamton to get my Master's degree in Student Affairs Administration. I love playing video games, hanging out with my family, and spending time interacting with the many students that come through our doors at Harpur Academic Advising! I am excited to work with first-gen students at Binghamton, and would be happy to help you acclimate to this new environment, and navigate the numerous opportunities you have in front of you!

Sha-Niyah Ortiz

sha-niyah ortiz

MSW Graduate Student, CCPA- Social Work

I'm the first in my family to go to college and the first in my entire family (both immediate and extended) who will have a master's degree. My undergraduate experience was a complete roller coaster. I was on academic probation two times, and at one point was academically dismissed from college. I had a numerous amount of support from the EOP department and fellow professors which allowed me to get re-admitted, and with a lot of support and determination, I was able to graduate with my bachelor's degree, and now I am a graduate student. I'm extremely passionate about helping/mentoring underrepresented, low-income, first-generation students and I am also very passionate about helping students bounce back from any failures and tribulations that they may experience in college.  

Laura Pangallozzi

laura pangallozzi

Lecturer, Geography

My father attended a small military college, and my mother did not attend college.

Peter Partell

peter partell

Associate Dean, Academic Affairs & Administration, Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering & Applied Science

Lived at home and commuted to Buffalo State and I worked part-time at a lumber yard all through college.. I planned to be a high school Social Studies teacher. But I decided I wanted to be a "college teacher" and so I thought I'd continue on to graduate school. I really had no idea what was involved. Hobbies are playing volleyball and attending to my rose garden. Interests are politics and ice hockey.  

Kimberly Peabody

kimberly peabody

Director, Health Promotion and Prevention Services

Dr. Peabody has devoted her time to the education and training of future public health professionals, grant writing and community services. She has taught health education and promotion at James Madison University, Oklahoma State University, Texas Woman’s University and public health at Benedict College. Currently she is the Director of Health Promotion and Prevention Services at Binghamton University. Kimberly serves her community by supporting students in the attainment of their professional goals, supporting her church, and sharing her time with those who struggle with chemical dependency and mental illness. Kimberly Peabody received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Illinois University and doctorate from Texas Woman’s University. 

Beth Polzin

beth polzin

Program Coordinator, TRIP

I grew up not recognizing that I was a first-generation college student. The language for this category did not exist when I went to college. Later, when I heard the term, I thought that because I had two relatives with college degrees, each of whom went on for graduate degrees, that this term did not apply to me; however, neither of my parents held a college degree at the time I went to college. My other relatives did not count. I saw these relatives only on occasion, but I saw and interacted with my parents every day. Their way of being in the world, and their understanding of it, was the one that most informed me and mine.

I feel lucky that my parents felt strongly about my right to attend college and supported my choice of institution. My extracurriculars fell back on what I knew best from my hometown: sports and paid labor. Looking back, I can identify other ways I might have participated in college life and approached people and situations differently. I see as well the knowledge and language other students had about themselves and how to be in the world that I was only beginning to develop. I followed my values to learn about the world by studying abroad, and this set me on a course to become a writer and researcher and earn an MFA and a Ph.D. I hope I can help others who are in their college years to learn about the resources available to them and how things work on a college campus and in the work force. My goal as a mentor is to help other first-gen college students take advantage of their time on campus and fill in the gaps in knowledge that we do not necessarily know we have.

Jazmine Powell

jazmine powell

Senior Academic Counselor, TRIO Student Support Services

I was born and raised in Binghamton, NY. For the first two years of undergrad I went to SUNY Delhi where I majored in Liberal Arts. My Mom encouraged me to become a nurse or a doctor, a career that would make me a lot of money. I transferred to SUNY Oneonta where I majored in Biology with a concentration in pre-health. I was somewhat interested in the material, but was not passionate about it. After that semester I transferred to SUNY Broome and that Fall was accepted into Binghamton University where I majored in Human Development. Finally I found my fit, I found something I was passionate about and was excited to explore. As part of the Human Development program you must complete a practicum. I chose Liberty Partnerships Program at Binghamton High School, an opportunity program I was a part of. Providing support services to high school students to ready them for higher education or the workplace inspired me to seek out similar environments. To do this, I decided to get my MS in Student Affairs Administration at Binghamton and applied to be a Graduate Assistant for TRIO Student Support Services, where they provide support to first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities. I loved the students and staff so much I stayed for two years as their GA and became an Academic Counselor when I graduated in May of 2019. A fun fact about me is I've travelled to China and England and hope to visit many more countries in the future. I enjoy reading and spending time with my family.

Kathryn Przybysz

kathryn pryzbysz

PhD Candidate, Behavioral Neuroscience

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Buffalo State College, and am currently a PhD candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience studying the long-term effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on social behavior and neurophysiology. I was the first person in my family to complete a Bachelor’s degree and am the first to pursue a graduate degree. I am also the only one in my family involved in academic life in a STEM field, which has provided its own unique challenges. All of these areas have each provided their own obstacles to me as a first-generation individual, and while difficult, I think these experiences have been immensely valuable to me. Especially now as I near the end of my PhD, I can see how navigating undergraduate, graduate school, and academia by building my own professional network to guide me has been critical to my development as a scientist and has given me the confidence to believe in my own success. Because of my experiences, I now have a passion for mentorship and a desire to help those who need to build a support network and provide guidance to those navigating their own higher education journey. 

Josh Reno

josh reno

Professor, Anthropology

I grew up with parents who valued higher education, but were unable to complete it for themselves. My father eventually went back to school, while working full-time. I loved college and always loved to write but had to adopt new role models in order to imagine that I could one day be a professor and a writer. I benefited from amazing instructors and mentors as an undergrad who helped me to feel at home in a world that was new to me. I’ve now written three books and am working on a fourth and fifth. I dedicated the second to my parents and the third to my siblings because I want to show appreciation for what they gave me.

Christina Ritter

christina ritter

Executive Assistant - Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Washington DC

Originally from Vestal, NY, she graduated from Binghamton University in 1999 with a BS in Applied Social Science from the School of Education and Human Development. Ms. Ritter lived in Dickinson Community throughout her tenure as an undergraduate student and received the Distinguished Service Award during the Dickinson Commencement Ceremony. She held various positions in Dickinson Town Council, was a Resident Assistant and an Orientation Advisor. After attaining her master’s degree in College Student Personnel Administration at Canisius College in Buffalo, she returned to Binghamton University as Resident Director of College-in-the-Woods and Hinman College for four years until relocating to Northern Virginia.
Ms. Ritter’s professional experience also includes management positions in Housing and Residence Life at George Mason University, serving as on-site Assistant Property Manager with AvalonBay Communities, as Executive Assistant to a county supervisor in Fairfax County, Virginia and at the American Council on Education, the nation’s largest coordinating body for higher education. She is currently Executive Assistant to the Executive Leadership Team at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education located in Washington, DC. Ms. Ritter was a member of the Binghamton University Alumni Board of Directors from 2013-2019 and is chair of the DC Metro Chapter of the Binghamton University Alumni Association. She resides in Arlington, Virginia.

Denise Rodriguez

denise rodriguez

Teacher, Alumni

My parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic. They did not attend college and aren't proficient in English. In high school, I had to navigate the college process on my own. The day that I received my acceptance letter from Binghamton, was the best day ever! During my summers in undergrad, I was a camp counselor and I loved it! During my junior year at Bing, I was an intern at Binghamton High School where I shadowed and assisted an English teacher. I loved English, but after that semester I knew that elementary / middle school was more my jam. As I was deciding on graduate school and teaching, I had a lot of questions, but felt as if there wasn't anyone to answer them. My first year of teaching was the 2020-2021 school year in the middle of the pandemic. It was intense, but I learned a lot. In my free time I like to play sims, cuddle my dog and watch movies with my girlfriend. 

Nicole Rouhana

nicole rouhana

Asst. Professor-Director of Graduate Nursing, Decker School of Nursing

I am an FNP and Nurse Midwife. I started my education at a community college 38 years ago and am now the Director of the Graduate Nursing Department. I am passionate about caring for underserved and rural families. My educational journey was over a lifetime as I consider myself to be a life long learner. I want to help you be the best professional you were meant to be!

Myra Sabir

myra sabir

Associate Professor, Human Development

I've always been interested in ultimate questions. My undergraduate degree was in philosophy, which served me well until it didn't anymore. I grew up in the Bible-belt South, but since no one would engage around the ultimate questions they purported to answer, I went to Candler School of Theology/Emory University to engage them there. That served me best by leading me to the study of human development (PhD, Cornell University) - the farther reaches of human nature, the best we can achieve in ourselves and in family and community life. I now enjoy continuing growth as a narrative psychologist/intervention researcher helping others to uncover clues in their personal life stories for how to proceed toward this end.

I am one of 11 children, the middle child with all the typical middle-child characteristics, from southern Alabama. I have been fortunate in making a career of my passion for human flourishing, using a narrative self-analysis process called Life Writing. I love cooking and interior decorating and entertaining; fitness; hanging out in nature. I look forward to meeting you!

Daryl Santosdarylsantos

Professor, Systems Science and Industrial Engineering

Technically, I wasn't the first (but was in the first generation) in my family to attend. My older siblings also graduated college. I'm the first to attend college away from home and the first to obtain MS and PhD degrees. I was able to fund college, in part, due to an access program similar to our EOP program. I love to boat, fish, shoot pool, and garden/yardwork.

Erica Sausner

erica sausner

STEM Education Researcher, SUNY Research Foundation/Center for Learning and Teaching

I grew up in Western New York, as the youngest of 11 children. After earning my BA from SUNY New Paltz and working for a few years, I joined the US Peace Corps and served for two years in Panama. When I returned to the US I began my PhD path at Penn State and graduated with a dual-title degree in Educational Theory & Policy and Comparative & International Education. Through domestic and international work my research focuses on the relationships between educational policy and marginalized students. As a first-generation college student I was definitely out of my depth and comfort zone at Penn State. I hadn’t asked the right questions before applying or found a mentor to guide me. Despite the financial and emotional challenges of the grad school and entering the academic job market, I am proud that I lived my values throughout these processes. Now that I’m in a solid place, professionally, I’m excited to have more time and energy for what makes me feel most like myself: being nerdy, cooking, baking, yoga...and some new adventures that are still TBD!

Jiyun Elizabeth (Liz) L. Shin, Ph.D.

liz shin

Lecturer, Psychology

As a first-generation college student from a low-income, immigrant background, I often felt very uncertain about my future. But I always enjoyed learning and was fascinated by the human mind and behavior. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Geneseo and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Stony Brook University. Currently, I teach various courses in psychology and do research related to bias, stereotypes, and individual beliefs that affect students.

Michael Siehs

michael siehs

VP Data Management Program Manager, Data Management, Alumni

I’m first-generation Binghamton graduate, both my parents were refugees from Europe due to WW2. I transferred to Binghamton after starting at Hunter college in NYC. My parents were unable to offer me much in the way of guidance about the College experience nor were they able to assist with career planning. I recently retired as a VP of Program Management in Data Governance for JP Morgan Chase. During my entire career I mentored first year hires and college students interested in Technology and Financial services.

Jordan Smith


Career Consultant Assistant in Residence, Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development

My undergraduate pathway had several paths, including 5 different major switches. Following graduation, I realized that I didn't know what I actually wanted to do with my degree (B.A. in Psychology), and struggled with transitioning after college. I was fortunate that my network reached out and gave me the support I needed to get myself back on track. When I started graduate school, I utilized the Career Services Office right away and not only did I develop the career skills I was lacking, I fell in love with the field! Now as a Career Consultant, my personal mission is to guide others on reaching a path that utilizes their unique strengths and interests so that I see everyone I coach making impacts in the areas that are meaningful to them. When I'm not working, you can find me playing volleyball or walleyball, eating at various restaurants with friends, and gardening.

Kelli Smith


Assistant Vice President for Student Success, Student Affairs

While we have students that have faced and overcome greater struggles than myself, being the first in my family to graduate from college, I understand first-hand the struggle of having to find my own way and to not have the social structure of support to navigate the college experience. My father, a railroad worker, died tragically when I was just a few months old, and my mother, a secretary, did the best she could to support me. But I came from a family with great dysfunction and my undergraduate college experience changed my life. I attribute the vast majority of who I am today as a person, community member, and professional to that experience. Therefore, one of my greatest passions is to help other first-generation students understand there are resources and people to support them, and to understand it pays to aim high. I am proud to have earned three degrees in three different disciplines, including a PhD, financially on my own and have a successful career that I love in higher education balanced with a wonderful family. I know it would not have been possible without those faculty, administrators, and mentors that supported me along the way. Therefore, I love to pay it forward by helping our own first-generation students.

Michele Troutman

michele troutman

Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. As a first-generation scholar, I lucked out in attending a public high school geared towards finding careers. If not for my high school or the professional archaeologists I spoke with in my community, I would not have attended college. I received my bachelor’s degree in anthropology/archaeology (minor in Religious Studies) from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate I participated in the McNair Scholars Program (TRiO) whose supportive staff and my cohort encouraged and prepared me for graduate studies. I received my master’s in anthropology at Binghamton University, where I am also currently a PhD candidate. I faced numerous challenges along the way from trying to figure out the bureaucratic process, how to navigate an unfamiliar environment, and managing the discord between my life at home versus my emerging identity as a scholar. It took the support of my community, my instructors, and my peers to get me this far. Not everyone has that support or knows where to seek it out. Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns!

Cherie van Putten

cherie van putten

Instructional Designer, Center for Learning and Teaching

Although my father was a college graduate, I got little guidance from him when I struggled in college. I had to navigate the switching of majors and dealing with the emotional fall-out on my own. I received a BS in Marketing from Penn State and later a Master's in Adult Education. I want to help others learn from my experiences and what I have learned through my studies. My hobbies are shuttling my 16 year old daughter to school and extracurricular events and riding/training horses. Along with my daughter and husband, my family consists of 1 horse, 3 ponies, 3 dogs, and 2 barncats.

Ellen Vibbard

ellen vibbard

Senior Career Education Specialist, Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development

I grew up in Cooperstown, NY (birthplace of baseball) and attended SUNY Oswego as an undergrad and Binghamton University for graduate school. Being a first-generation college student, I developed a mindset that I had to figure things out on my own and it was not until well into my undergraduate degree that I really learned how to leverage campus resources and seek guidance from individuals who had a vested interest in my success. With a background in student affairs and career services, I love helping students succeed academically, explore interests and develop both personally and professionally. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my two dogs and trying out new DIY projects. I look forward to connecting! 

Susie Villarreal

susie villarreal

Graduate Student, Psychology

After a 13 year long hiatus I from the university and began my graduate studies. As a minority woman from a field and blue collar working family, I understand the unique barriers and challenges as a first generation college graduate. I now have a daughter who brings my life a lot of joy and drama, and continues to make my academic journey and goals all worthwhile.

Cassandra Wentzel

cassandra wentzel

Research and Scholarship Advisor, External Scholarship and Undergraduate Research Center

Cassandra is a Research and Scholarship Advisor with the External Scholarship and Undergraduate Research Center at Binghamton University. She had a dual role by working with the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair Scholars Program). Cassandra’s experiences with being a first-generation and low income allowed her to fit uniquely within this role.
Cassandra has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in Human Geography and is completing her Masters of Arts from the University of Delaware in Human Geography. This educational path, opened the door to help assist her students in both spaces with all things research.

Coda Winters

coda winters


My mom only had an Associate's degree from our local community college. I had pretty high grades in high school and students above a certain GPA could go to the local community college for free. I debated going down that path first and then to transfer on to a Bachelor's degree, but my mom told me that if I had done that, I would not go on to get my Bachelor's. So I went to SUNY Potsdam for my four years, teaching myself how to college the whole time, even still today. I graduated in 2018, took a year off, worked at a call center, and then came here to Binghamton University to complete a Master's degree. I ended up changing my major and minor three times, but I'm glad I landed in Women's and Gender Studies with my minor in Linguistics. I hope to go on to tackle Linguistics again - it's a very interesting field!

Maxine Wright

maxine wright

Case Manager, Dean of Students

My name is Maxine and I came from Jamaica when I was only 15 years old. A year into high school I had to navigate the college application process. It was difficult, as my parents were also new to the US and had no idea how to help me.Through mentors and dedicated teachers, I was able to secure a spot at Binghamton University. Figuring out where you belong and how to fit in was always a struggle. Developing the confidence to advocate for myself was difficult but here I am choosing a profession that seeks to help others.

I love traveling and have been to 45 of the 50 United States. I also enjoy gardening, going to the movies and quilting.

One mantra I live by is "the race is not for the swift, you just need to get to the finish line".

Ryan Yarosh

ryan yarosh

Senior Director of Media and PR, Communications and Marketing

Public relations professional with 20 years of experience in media relations, issues management, social media and video, including fifteen years in higher education. Areas of expertise include strategic communications planning, brand messaging, media training and issues management. Proficient at working independently or collaboratively; adept at working with diverse groups ranging from students to faculty to senior leaders/administrators.

Alexia Yue

alexia yue

Graduate Student

California born and bred, my academic career began in the heart of the central valley attending UC Merced. Graduating with a B.S. in Developmental Biology and a few years of industry experience from a startup company in the Bay Area, I packed two suitcases and came to New York to research alcoholism in iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes. However, the path from A to B was never clear or straightforward. Pursuing a goal beyond what my parents or immediate relatives achieved is a journey that I attribute to the support of advisers and friends I met along the way. Swapping life experiences and obtaining these small nuggets of wisdom gave me the assurance that pursuing dreams could evolve into a real career. The best piece of advice I can give to fellow first gen-ers is live in the moment. Enjoy the time you spend- doodle in notebooks, binge all the Netflix dramas, and eat nauseating amounts of tacos or donuts. And stop worrying about the “what ifs”- never be afraid of the unknown, own it.