Faculty, Students Inducted in National First-Generation Honor Society

First-generation faculty, staff, and students share their stories

  • AZ - Glendale
  • IL - Downers Grove
First-generation IL students induction into honor society

(From left, front): Jasmine Nava (CPDG 鈥26); Sierra Maziur (CHS-Downers Grove Clin Psych 鈥28); Kimberly Gonzalez (CPDG 鈥26); Courtney Robinson (CHS-Downers Grove OT 鈥24); Kailun Stanton (CDMI 鈥27); Lenette Alexia Ruiz (CHS-Downers Grove SLP 鈥24).
(Back): Endy Didovic (CPDG 鈥26), Nicole Kay (CCOM 鈥25 & CHS Downers Grove MPH 鈥25), Sun Mudiavita (CGS-Downers Grove MBS 鈥25), Erica Sanford (CDMI 鈥26), Caitlin Nicolai (CCOM 鈥27)

P站视频 established a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha, or Tri-Alpha, the National First-Generation Honor Society, and held ceremonies on both the Downers Grove, IL and Glendale, AZ campuses to commemorate the accomplishments of first-generation faculty, staff, and students. The first-generation community experience includes being the first in their families to finish a college degree, the first to establish themselves in the United States, or the first to pursue a certain field of study. Inducted into the honor society were 17 students and 12 faculty and staff members from the Downers Grove Campus, and 29 students and six faculty and staff members from the Glendale Campus.      

Dr. Baker, Dr. G, Victoria Franks
Dr. Goeppinger proudly displays the Alpha Alpha Alpha National Honor Society charter.
(From left): Dr. Baker, Dr. Goeppinger, and Victoria Franks. 

Kathleen H. Goeppinger, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of P站视频, said, 鈥淲e are glad to be able to honor our first-generation students and faculty. It is wonderful to know that we are going to continue a regular society that is going to promote first-generation students.鈥 Dr. Goeppinger said she thought about the first-generation experience from the perspective of faculty and students. 鈥淚 look at all of you and I realize that you broke down barriers, and you became the guiding principles and set the example for your whole family. What a wonderful thing to have done.鈥 

Victoria Franks, M.Adm., Vice President, Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach, said, 鈥淭he hard work, resilience, and perseverance of our first-generation students, faculty, and staff at P站视频 are worthy of acknowledgment and celebration. We are fortunate to have a vibrant, trailblazing community of strong, determined individuals who have learned to turn challenges and struggles into remarkable success stories.鈥 She added, 鈥淏y joining this honor society, all new members acknowledged the importance of sharing their first-generation background and pledged to support and mentor the other first-generation students. I am incredibly proud of our first-generation community on both campuses 鈥 they inspire me beyond words.鈥


First-Generation Faculty and Staff
(From left, front): Adrian Valadez, Pharm.D., Post Doctoral Fellow, Pharmacy Practice, CPDG; Kathy LePard, Ph.D., Program Director, Biomedical Sciences, (CGS-Downers Grove); Susan Viselli, Ph.D., Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, (CGS-Downers Grove); Ira Sigar, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Microbiology & Immunology, (CGS-Downers Grove).
(Back): Karen Eckhart, M.A., B.S., Financial Aid Administrator, Student Financial Services; Joshua Baker, O.D., M.S., Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer; Deanne Drozdz, M.A., M.B.A., (CHS-Downers Grove PT); Joshua Edwards, Ph.D., Professor, Pharmacology, (CGS-Downers Grove); Antonio Perez, Senior Network Engineer, Information Technology Services; Hilal Arnouk, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Pathology, (CGS-Downers Grove).  


Joshua Baker, O.D., M.S., Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, was inducted into the society and highlighted significant moments from his journey. He reflected on his conversation with his parents about the decision to go to college. Initially, they wanted him to work because they were fearful about what would happen if he could not pay for school or was unsuccessful. 鈥淭hey didn't know anyone who'd ever gone to college before. It was like saying I'm going to the moon. Their lack of experience was that profound. Starting a college career as a first-generation student is not just mastering your own fears and insecurities, but you have to master the fears of your loved ones and make them feel secure,鈥 he said.

Dr. Baker nearly left school due to a housing fee he could not pay, but the intervention of his roommate鈥檚 mother led him to financial aid where he was presented with options to repay the fee. 鈥淭hink of what I almost did. I was giving up because I didn't know what to do,鈥 he remarked. Dr. Baker also reminisced about his first day of optometry school, where a question from a professor had him stumped for the correct answer while a classmate answered easily with complex terminology. 鈥淚 panicked. I really thought I should quit before I incur all this debt.鈥 Ultimately, Dr. Baker chose to continue the educational path he forged through his undergraduate and graduate studies. 鈥淚 spent my first quarter sitting in the very front row of that class because I was so fearful that I wasn't going to get the material. But in the end, I graduated at the top of my class. I went on to have an amazing career.鈥 Dr. Baker also spoke about how first-generation students may experience imposter syndrome. 鈥淚t鈥檚 easy to feel like we don't belong, and that we shouldn't be there. All I'm going to ask is that each of you take every opportunity you can to share your story. There's going to be something in your experience that's going to strengthen others, particularly in those similar situations.鈥


Sun Mudiavita is inducted into the honor society.
Sun Mudiavita (CGS-Downers Grove MBS 鈥25)


Biomedical Sciences student Sun Mudiavita, (CGS-Downers Grove MBS 鈥25) faced significant challenges as a first-generation and international student. 鈥淚 did not have anybody to guide me through the education process,鈥 he said. 鈥淎s an international student who lived in the United States without family members, things were even more difficult because I did not have enough social support to help me in my journey. I thought about quitting, but I was always reminded that I am not doing this for myself, but also for the people around me.鈥 Sun appreciates the research opportunities, the Biomedical program, and the preparation he is receiving as he works on his lifetime goal of becoming a doctor. 鈥淚 saw suffering and illnesses in my family specifically and people around me in general. In 2013, I lost my brother in the Congo due to a treatable condition. It is difficult for me to see that there are people out there who are losing their lives because of treatable conditions. I want to be part of the community that is engaged in helping those who are sick.鈥


Sapana Subba inducted in first-generation honor society
Sapana Subba (CGS-Glendale 鈥24)

Biomedical Sciences student Sapana Subba (CGS-Glendale MABS 鈥24) was born in a refugee camp in Nepal and witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of limited medical care. 鈥淲e had one doctor for hundreds of people and waiting in line often meant risking lives to treat preventable diseases like pneumonia, fever, and flu. Tragically, my own family experienced this when my younger brother fell ill one night and passed away from a persistent fever and pneumonia.鈥 Sapana continued, 鈥淚 decided to pursue a career in medicine to advocate for the underserved, and to ensure that medical care reaches those who need it most so that no other innocent child will die from preventable disease, or families will suffer the pain of losing a loved one. I am pursuing my master's degree to prepare myself for a career in medicine.鈥 Sapana detailed some of the challenges she experienced on her educational path, including financing her education while balancing responsibilities at home. 鈥淎s the eldest child, I felt a deep duty to my family. I took on full-time work to support us financially, ensured that my parents received the medical attention they needed, and took care of my two younger siblings,鈥 she said. 

Clinical Psychology student Catalina Blanton (CHS-Glendale Clin Psych 鈥26) shared, 鈥淎s the daughter of a non-English speaking parent with limited opportunities, I witnessed firsthand how restricted access to resources can perpetuate broader healthcare disparities, especially in the field of mental health.鈥 She described her greatest challenge as code-switching, alternating between languages, but for Catalina it went beyond the linguistic concept. 鈥淚t encompassed a broader adjustment 鈥 consciously and unconsciously modifying my behavior, appearance, and even aspects of my identity to conform to this new environment I was in. As a member of an underrepresented group, this constant negotiation between my authentic self and my perceived expectations of the majority left me questioning my sense of belonging.鈥 Catalina added that her experience as a first-generation student gave her a deeper understanding of the psychological toll on students in the same situation. 鈥淚t reminded me that I was exactly where I needed to be. More importantly, I am not only advancing my own aspirations, I am also carrying the hopes and aspirations of my mother. There is a sense of great pride in letting my family know that the sacrifices they have made to come to this country with nothing will be represented through me.鈥 


Nicole Kay is inducted into the first-generation honor society.
Nicole Kay (CCOM 鈥25 & CHS Glendale MPH 鈥25)


Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine and Master of Public Health student Nicole Kay (CCOM 鈥25 & CHS Downers Grove MPH 鈥25) said her inspiration to pursue higher education was due to a health crisis in her family. 鈥淚 saw physicians work to help bring peace back to my family, and I was motivated to do that for others as well.鈥 Nicole touched upon the benefits of her path, 鈥淚t鈥檚 personally fulfilling to know that you鈥檝e really challenged yourself to go above and beyond your circumstances to navigate and go up. The best advice I can give is to continue to be resilient in the process. It鈥檚 not straightforward and it鈥檚 not easy. It can take longer than someone with privileges.鈥 


Sheila Cazares is inducted into the first-generation honor society.
Sheila Cazares (CGS-Downers Grove MABS 鈥24)


Biomedical Sciences student Sheila Cazares (CGS-Downers Grove MABS 鈥24) chose her educational path to be better prepared for pursuing a future degree as a physician assistant. Sheila said her family is very supportive, even if they cannot assist her. She advises students who may be going through a similar experience, 鈥淭ake advantage of the resources here for you. I have never attended a school where I鈥檝e felt so supported.鈥


First-generation AZ students induction ceremony.
(From left): Alina Torres (CPG鈥26); Sapana Subba (CGS-Glendale 鈥24); Xitlali Arias Ortiz (CHS-Glendale D.N.A.P. 鈥26); Sudha Muthuraju (CDMA 鈥24); Taylor Butler (CDMA 鈥24); Thomasine James (CPG 鈥26); Catalina Blanton (CHS-Glendale Clin Psych 鈥26); Maximilian Bezzegh (CPG 鈥25); Daniela Barrera Flores (AZCOM 鈥24); Valezka Uzcategui (CHS-Glendale OT 鈥24); Nam Nguyen (CHS D.N.A.P. 鈥26).   


Occupational Therapy student Valezka Uzcategui (CHS-Glendale OT 鈥24) said one of her biggest challenges was researching the types of jobs appropriate for graduate school applicants to include on their applications. Valezka also said building a network with other first-generation students has been instrumental to her experience. Valezka also shared words of inspiration for others in similar situations. 鈥淓ven if it takes multiple application cycles to get into a program, keep trying. All it takes is one yes.鈥 


Dr. Sigar is inducted into the first-generation honor society.
Ira Sigar, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Microbiology & Immunology, (CGS-Downers Grove)


Ira Sigar, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Microbiology & Immunology, College of Graduate Studies (CGS-Downers Grove), advised students 鈥渘ot to be afraid and be proactive in looking for help. The biggest reward is to finish what you start.鈥 Dr. Sigar added, 鈥淯se this proud moment as a reminder to yourself that there are many people who brought you to this point.鈥 She shared that among the challenges in her experience was learning the culture to fit in as an international student from Indonesia.


First-generation AZ faculty and staff induction ceremony.
(From left): Kylie Scott, PT, D.P.T., OCS, Associate Professor, Physical Therapy, (CHS-Glendale PT); Megan Eikenberry, PT, D.P.T., Ed.D., Associate Professor, Physical Therapy, (CHS-Glendale PT);.Estela Jauregui, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Physiology, (CGS-Glendale); Carmela M. Trapani, M.B.A, BSHA, LPN, Multispecialty Clinic Patient Services.


P站视频 continues to offer support and encouragement for first-generation students through the Tri-Alpha Society and other programs. First-generation students, faculty, and staff bring unique perspectives to the healthcare profession, enriching it with their diverse backgrounds and experiences. They are also an inspiration to the University community by embodying hope and resiliency despite seemingly insurmountable odds. The Tri-Alpha Society is a place for rapport for those who have gone through similar experiences while simultaneously bringing along and assisting the next first-generation cohorts on their academic and career journeys. 

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