Kenneth Brown ’19 shares his first-generation college experience

Brown, the assistant director of first-generation student support services, writes about his journey as a first-generation student to supporting current first-gen students as a staff member.

My first-generation story is kind of weird as both of my parents had some type of post-high school experience. This is one of the many characteristics that describe many first-generation students.

The feeling, however, of being in uncharted territory remained the same as those whose parents didn’t have some type of post-high school experience. Education is a big value to my family and college was not an option. For me, it was a way out.

Kenneth Brown Jr. ’19 speaking at the start of his senior year at Elon.

Getting into Elon was an exciting day but then the question of “What’s next” came. I was fortunate to have college advisors help me through that process that connected me to the Odyssey program. I am grateful for the Odyssey program with folks like Esther Freeman, Catherine Parsons, Marcus Elliott, Denise Teeters, Dr. Jean Rattigan-Rohr and many others for the support and love that they gave me as I did things that I had only dreamed.

I had the chance to study abroad in Scotland, have my own radio show, get highly involved in student organizations, even serve as Student Body President my senior year, and so much more. I’ve said many times that Elon took a chance on me and helped me dream big. My experience at Elon influenced my path to work in higher education and help to create more equitable and inclusive campuses where students can see themselves as integral to the campus community.

Now to be back as a staff member has been a very surreal moment. Being back in the Center for Access and Success, which holds a special place in my heart, on a campus that has transformed my life and those around me is a dream come true. Now, I get to be the person for today’s first-generation students that Esther, Catherine, Marcus, Denise, Dr. Rohr and many others were for me.

Dora Muratovic ’19 & Kenneth Brown ’19

As a Human Service Studies major, I was introduced to the concept that it is best to  “work with” communities rather than “work for.” It has been a joy to get to know the first-generation community, learn their stories and hear about what they are looking for and the role I can play in it. In many ways, I see them as co-conspirators in the effort to create a campus where they have the support systems they need to thrive.

To me, it’s more than just the diploma at graduation but are they better people, better leaders, better teachers, better citizens than when they first entered campus? Did they do what they set out to do and then some? To walk alongside them is a gift and I am blessed to be able to contribute to many other areas, areas I was involved in as a student, in larger student success efforts on campus.

I am excited to see what we can do together. I know it’s going to be an exciting ride!

Kenneth Brown ’19 is the assistant director of first-generation student support services. Brown is passionate about creating an equitable and inclusive community while helping young people grow more into their authentic selves.

Elon is hosting a week of events in honor of First-Generation Celebration from Nov. 6 through Nov. 11. This year’s weeklong celebration will feature a selection of events around the theme of “To Be First.”