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Last updated on Nov 05, 2021

First-Gen CCA Tammy Rae

Tammy Rae Carland - Provost and faculty member

When I started art school in the fall of 1983 I was the first in my family to attend college, I was also the first in my family to graduate from high school. All these decades later I am still the only person in my birth family to complete a college education and one of a few to complete high school.

I had absolutely no idea how to go about applying to college. Though I was an academically strong student and successfully taking college preparatory classes at my high school, my guidance counselor was completely perplexed when I told her I wanted to attend college. She literally said she was “surprised and had no idea I was interested in college”. She had assumed that based on my class background (I grew up in a single parent family dependent on welfare, subsidized housing and food stamps) that I wasn’t “interested” in college and that I wouldn’t be “supported”.

Enter my high school art teacher! When I shared the details of this interaction with my guidance counselor with my high school art teacher she immediately began working with me on how, when and why to apply to college. My art teacher even helped me with the very daunting task of applying for financial aid. Thank you once again Ms. Millet, you made a world of difference in the many directions of my life!

It took me eight years to complete my undergraduate education, mostly because I had to keep leaving school to work and make money. I was dependent on financial aid and worked many jobs while a college student. And my mother, much to her own disappointment, had no capacity to financially help me.

It took me additional time to earn my undergraduate degree, more than most of my peers, because I continued to financially support my birth family. I didn’t know how to manage the college experience; not having a parent or adult guardian who had navigated the terrain of higher education left me in uncharted territory and making decisions without the support of someone else’s past experience.

As a first gen college student I learned quite quickly that for me to experience a sense of belonging I needed to be vulnerable and open and not hide my true self for the sake of others comfort. To be honest about who I am, who I am becoming, and what I bring with me in all my relationships with peers and mentors has allowed me to find relationships opportunities I never would have had if I simply tried to conform to the assumptions of others. So, when I became an educator and entered the field as a professor twenty-eight years ago I did so with a commitment to always speak openly and without shame about my personal journey as a first generation college student with a welfare class background. And this commitment has introduced me to some of my all time favorite people! It has built deep and profound connections and even helped to create pathways for others.

I feel so fortunate that CCA has been a landing spot in which I have found students and colleagues who are genuinely aligned with my core values and who continue to broaden my knowledge and capacity for growth. My hope is for CCA to be a respite, a building block and to provide support and connection for first gen students, staff and faculty as they strive for artistic and professional growth. And my one and only piece of advice is to always stretch and extend yourself into every opportunity that appeals to you. They might not always be obvious in propelling you forward, but each opportunity taken is a stepping stone towards a long, creative, and collaborative life. Most importantly, you are already more than enough, you have so much good to contribute and so many of us are here, simply waiting for your beautiful, honest, amazing brilliance!

Words of Encouragement for First-Gen College Students

You are already more than enough, you have so much good to contribute and so many of us are here, simply waiting for your beautiful, honest, amazing brilliance!

We are First-Gen @ CCA