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Being the First: Navigating College and Beyond as a First Gen Student

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On April 7, Bay Path students gathered to hear advice from three first-generation college students who are succeeding in their fields. Panelists included Senior Associate at KPMG Accounting Firm, Alumni Council President, and Board of Trustees member Stephanie O’Leary ‘05 G’16 G’17, The LEGO Group’s Lead of Operations for North America Victoria Gomez ‘12, and Senior Lead Faculty of The American Women’s College (TAWC) Psychology program Genevieve Condon, MS. 

For Genevieve Condon, persistence has been key in her educational and professional journey. After having her daughter at 19, Genevieve stated, “she was my strength through the entire process,”referring to her pursuit of a degree during the early years of motherhood. As someone who has always worked and gone to school full time, hard work and determination is second nature. Her current teaching career fell into her lap. It was never a path she planned, leaving her terrified on her first night of teaching to a class of 5 students. But after that one lesson, she knew she had found her calling. When she met Dr. Leary, the former President of Bay Path University said she could see her doing something more. After years of being an adjunct and One-Day program professor, a role was created for her in The American Women’s College Psychology program. Genevieve has thrived in this role and is grateful for all the opportunities Bay Path has opened up for her. Relating to other first-generation college students, she admits she is still finding her voice. “I am learning when to say no and when to say yes, or when to say this is too much or not enough. Use your voice to set your boundaries and expectations.”

Growing up in Longmeadow, most of the parents of Stephanie’s peers had gone to college. Even with those around her seeming to have the upper hand, she did not let that stop her from pursuing her dream. From a young age, Stephanie proclaimed, “When people tell me I can’t do something, I don’t let that stop me. I never take no for an answer. If I have something I want to accomplish, I know I can do it.” She has always loved a challenge, which was proven again by her tenacity in applying to her current position at KPMG Accounting Firm 7 times before finally earning her spot on the 8th application. She advised students that if they have their sights set on something hard, they can do it through persistence and determination. “My favorite part of my job is solving puzzles every day. I also love to give back and think it is important to help others who have been in the same spot as me.” Above all else, Stephanie advises students to have the mindset of making the world a better place.

Victoria Gomez grew up with two military parents, making navigating financial aid and the application process a little difficult. She eventually became a part of the INROADS program, which helps underserved youth navigate the college application process. When Victoria had her first child at a young age, she took time off from school but knew she would soon return. She made her way back by starting with night classes at Holyoke Community College, and eventually signed up for Bay Path’s One-Day-A-Week Saturday program after getting a postcard in the mail. At age 29, she graduated with honors earning a B.S. in Business Administration with both of her children there to proudly watch her cross the stage. As she navigated her career, a former professor vouched for her work ethic and helped her get a position at the LEGO Group. Now, she has worked up the company’s ranks and leads a team of 200 employees. To grow in their career, she encourages students to have conversations, lean in, and learn about others’ experiences. When asked if she had found her voice, Victoria said: “I truly believe I have finally found my voice. I don’t care who likes me or who agrees with me. Far too often, we spend a lot of time pleasing people and make sure we fit in the box they want to put us in. I am gonna go after the job that makes me happy.”