Ian Smith, First Generation Student

By JAKE BILYEU ’18

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When PLU students take a walk through campus, they’re bound to pass by many other students, each with his or her own unique story.  Some may be the first person in their family to attend a university. Other students may have taken a Running Start program, allowing them to graduate more quickly.  However, students that have overcome both of those challenges are difficult to find.

Ian Smith is a busy man.  Whether it’s his job as a Resident Assistant on the second floor of Stuen, or his capstone class, which he is taking just two years after many of his peers were taking their SAT tests, Smith always has something to occupy his time.

He’s become used to this busy lifestyle, though.  In his junior year of high school, Smith enrolled in Highline Community College’s Running Start program, allowing him to knock out all of his General Undergrad Requirements before finishing high school.  Even with that extra work, he never settled, but instead always found more opportunities to explore.  He maintained his commitments to Federal Way High School’s Jazz and Marching Bands, and added ASB Senior Class President to his resume the following year.

“Taking those electives did cost me a lot of time,” Smith said.  “Those classes didn’t prevent me from missing out on the high school experience, though, so it was definitely worth it.”

Ian did all of this to prepare himself for college, which seems normal, except for one thing: Ian is the first person in his family to go college.

After graduating from Federal Way, Smith began attending PLU, where he moved into Foss Hall’s “First in the Family” wing, which linked Smith to many other students who were experiencing something totally new to them.  The First in the Family community allowed Smith to see what was special about the challenge that he was facing, and that the challenge wasn’t going to hold him and his friends back.

“Being a part of the First in the Family community is a cool thing that brought me together with a bunch of other great students,” Smith said. “Meeting the faculty members of the community was also great for us.”

While there, Smith met Devin Harrison, his RA.  Harrison remembers his days in Foss fondly, and Smith is one of the reasons why.

“Ian brought a friendly demeanor and an interesting charisma to the wing,” Harrison said. “He was instantly friends with everyone around him, and I think that helped a lot of the First Generation students feel more comfortable where they were and with each other.”

However, to Smith, the best part of that community isn’t what separates them from other students, it’s what unifies them.

“It’s something that we can feel accomplished about, but we’re just the same as any ‘normal’ college student,” Smith said.  “We get to show people that being a first generation student doesn’t mean that we come in without knowing anything.”

According to PLU’s Office of Admissions, about 22.5 percent of the students attending PLU are first-generation students.  Among those students, not many have come into college with Running Start credits, and very few have gone on to become Resident Assistants.  Even fewer have gone on to do both.

Screenshot (32)Even though Smith’s parents didn’t attend college when they were younger, they have still given Smith all of the love and support that he could ever
ask for.  While Smith seems very stoic to his peers, he has enjoyed the benefit of having someone back home to open up to about his experience.

“From many phone calls that I’ve made to them to cry about my homework,” Smith said jokingly, “I think they understand what graduating in just two years has demanded of me, and they tell me that they’re proud of me whenever they can.”

On top of trying to take only two years at PLU to graduate, Smith has also had to integrate himself into many different communities very quickly.

“When I first arrived, I made many new friends through New Student Orientation,” Smith said.  “After that, I had a bunch of upper level classes, and none of my first-year friends were in class with me.”

Now taking a Capstone class and an internship class at the same time, Smith, normally a shy guy, has had to push himself to communicate more with his teachers and classmates.

“I’ve lost a little bit of that connectivity with my professors, so I had to commit to meeting with them whenever I could to ask about their classes and their careers.” Smith said.  “Really, it was all about being intentional.”

Despite the struggle, Smith naturally cultivates relationships wherever he goes, which allowed him to become the Resident Assistant of one of Stuen Hall’s first-year wings.  Even though that’s added to his busy schedule, it’s allowed him to help push along new first-years going through struggles similar to his of yesteryear.

“There’s been a huge difference with how I relate to people,” Smith said.  “There’s added pressure now because I represent the university, and I have to be a role model.”

Smith shouldn’t worry about his ability to lead the way for others.  Even though his time on campus may be ending shortly, he’s making an impact on the PLU community that the university will take with for many years to come.



Categories: Academics, Campus, Community, Other, Profile, Student Life

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