Aleia White

Aleia WhiteHometown: Sidney, KY

Residence Life Coordinator
Belk Residence Hall, Room 120
whiteab@appstate.edu

I oversee and assist in the management of four residence halls on the stadium side of campus; Belk, Frank, Newland, and Justice.

Education

  • Undergraduate Institution: Eastern Kentucky University
  • Undergraduate Major: Sociology
  • Master's Institution: Arkansas Tech University
  • Master's Major: College Student Personnel 

Reflections on Being a First-Generation College Student

As a first generation college student, continuing my education was always the goal. I am thankful to have had supportive people in my life, especially my mother who stressed the importance of getting a degree and being independent; making my own path through life. After my parents divorced when I was just a child, my mother pushed harder for me to gain an education, to determine who I wanted to become, and to do anything/everything she never could. Growing up in a working class family, I oftentimes worried how this would all be possible. My mother was working two jobs with little financial assistance, but never once did she let that come into conversation. It was always "we'll figure it out" and figure it out is what we did.

Navigating college tours, applications, housing, and all the other pieces that involve college was challenging. I had also decided to attend Eastern Kentucky University, which would be almost three hours away from my family. To some, it was a shock. The culture of my area was to stay, find a job, and start a family, in no particular order. Many of my high school friends had decided to start community college or work at a local business, leaving me to be one of a handful to move away. I also still had the concern of finances and whether or not I could make it happen. What's FAFSA? How do I get a loan? Should I look for employment? All of those questions surrounding money because without money, I knew I couldn't attend. So all of that paperwork, loan entrance exams, and forms were hurdles that I would finally overcome.

My mother and grandmother moved me onto campus and although I was excited, that first semester was tough. There were many times of calling my mother and asking if I could just "come back home". Her response was always the same, "stick it out and we'll talk it about it later." Later eventually came, but by that time I had joined the Hall Council in my building and realized that college life was so much more than I had dreamed of. I took classes that opened my eyes and mind to our society and the differences of those around me. I joined a service organization my second semester while taking full advantage of all of the programs on campus. I participated in Alternative Spring Breaks, one of which I knew absolutely no one on the trip. I applied to be a Resident Assistant during my sophomore year and continued doing so for my last two years there. I met some of my best friends and learned more about the world than I could have ever imagined. I cannot recall ever feeling out of place or different from my peers. The topic of conversation never brought up my identity of being a first generation college student and at the time, I didn't mind. Although there were challenges in navigating finances, figuring out next steps, and continuing on in an unfamiliar place, I realized that I didn't want to leave. I graduated in four years with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and grew in so many ways, finally becoming the s independent person that my mother had pushed me to be. It was a life changing experience but my journey was not over.

I cannot remember the exact moment, but during my senior year I decided to attend graduate school. It just seemed like the best next step and I knew I wanted to pursue a career in higher education. My experience as a Resident Assistant provided me with a new path and so I began applying for Graduate Assistantships all across the south. I ended up being offered a Graduate Resident Director position at Arkansas Tech University that would pay for thirty of my thirty-six hours to complete a degree. Yet again, people were shocked, but I packed up my belongings and moved twelve hours away from family. After two years, tons of tears, but wonderful experiences in another state, I graduated with my Master of Science in College Student Personnel. From there, I worked in Housing & Residence Life at the University of Kentucky before ending up here at Appalachian State.

Although my educational experiences were challenging, they helped me grow in more ways than I can list. I do believe I am one of the lucky ones, coming from a family who asks questions and tries to understand my education, career, and decisions made. Again, navigating all of the financial constraints has always been a burden, but I persevered. My journey has taught me a few things, but the main lessons I have learned are to put yourself out there, get out of your comfort zone, and to enjoy every step of the way! It may be tough at times, but overcoming the challenging times makes for even better memories.