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BU First
BU First

Sally Childs-Helton's Story

Without parental guidance, find mentors (including first-generation faculty and staff) to help you navigate college and the transition to work or graduate school.

—Sally Childs-Helton, PhD, Professor, Library Faculty,  Head, Special Collections

Sally Childs-Helton on Percussion

My parents came from poor families; my father dropped out of high school to work. Through hard work they became successful small business owners. College was foreign to them; my high school teachers helped me with college plans. My advice: without parental guidance, find mentors (including first-generation faculty and staff) to help you navigate college and subsequent transitions to work or graduate school. Never be afraid to ask for help from any of Butler’s student service offices or your department or college. It’s not a sign of weakness—it’s being a good advocate for yourself. Work smarter and not harder; the University wants you to succeed. Find new mentors in graduate school because it can be even more challenging.

The biggest obstacle I faced was my parents not understanding my college experience. They were incredibly supportive, but had no clue. I overcame this by telling them as much as I could about my daily life, describing my courses and projects, and anything that would help them understand. I invited them to visit campus, introduced them to people, and brought friends home to visit. It was even harder for me to educate them about my graduate school life because I was 12 hours away; paying for my education; working 20–40 hours a week; getting assistantships and taking out loans; and negotiating all this myself with the help of my mentors.

One advantage of being first-generation is that you can role-model for your family, opening up the possibility of life-long learning for everyone. When I started college, I wish I’d known there was more money available; I probably could have finished with less debt or worked fewer hours a week. The bottom line: use the help that’s here, and be persistent! You can do this!