Gia Lebrun ’24 Shares her Perspective as a First-Generation Student at Simmons
The Communications department has a really great internship advisor, Associate Professor of Practice and Internship Director Kristina Markos, who was also a first- generation college student!
First-generation student Gia Lebrun ’24 is majoring in Public Relations and Marketing Communications with a minor in Political Science. We asked Lebrun about her perspective on the college experience and what advice she would give to prospective first-generation students.
What led you to your major?
At first I was a Political Science major, thinking I would go to law school. That’s what my parents wanted, but not what I wanted. Midway through sophomore year, two of my friends told me I should major in Communications because I’m good with social media and interested in branding and marketing. I had taken communications classes as a Political Science major, and started to realize that I liked those courses more than political science courses.
Why did you choose Simmons?
I am the oldest of three in my family and the first child to go to college. I was in the Class of 2020 in high school, so I didn’t really have a senior year during the COVID lockdown. Simmons offered me an extensive amount of financial aid [than where I had intended to study]. I chose to go to a school that would provide me with more financial assistance instead of somewhere that would force my parents and I to accumulate a large amount of debt. My sister is now at George Mason University, and if I had gone to [my initial choice], she wouldn’t have been able to attend that university.
What is it like to be a first-generation student?
In the beginning, it was stressful. I was the first daughter, niece, and granddaughter to be in college. I have a lot of eyes on me, with everyone anticipating what I’m going to do. I had numerous family members contacting me about post grad plans and law school, not being fully aware that I was no longer a Political science major.
My parents are from Haiti, and they came to the U.S. the year before I was born. There isn’t a direct translation of [my current major] into Creole, so it’s difficult to explain my degree to my parents if it’s not law or STEM-related. The Communications department has a really great internship advisor, Associate Professor of Practice and Internship Director Kristina Markos, who was also a first- generation college student! She helped me get an internship at Harvard doing communications and public relations. Simmons is really well-connected with other institutions and able to provide those opportunities. After that role at an ivy league institution, my father can see that my degree is worthwhile.
How is Simmons preparing you to become a leader in your field?
I’ve always been a leader. In high school I was very involved and did everything, and that carried over to Simmons. I [attended a] leadership training in August on behalf of President Wooten and the Division of Student Engagement, Success, and Diversity, which rewarded leaders and acknowledged our work on campus.
I’m also in Studio 5 in the Communications Department, in which students work together as a communications agency with product managers, client intel, and graphic designers, all working for an external client. The client — in finance, technology, or healthcare — communicates with our advisor, Kristina Markos, about what they want to do: create an advertisement or marketing/communications plan, build a social media package, write a press release, etc. It’s basically like working in a public relations agency, but we have an advisor guiding us through the process. We’re under a contract to gain real world experience while still in college, like an internship but based within a classroom.
Do you have any advice for other first-generation students?
Definitely find a mentor! Ask lots of questions — you don’t know what you don’t know. Engage with faculty members, ask them a lot of questions and network. Professor Markos helped me understand how you should act in a professional environment. Being in a Haitian household, in my culture you don’t ask questions, you just listen to what people tell you. It’s the exact opposite when you’re working in a professional field.
I get a lot of questions [from my family] about what I’m going to do post-graduation. People will tell you what they think you should be doing and how you should do it, but you have to stand your ground. I’m not going to graduate school right after undergrad because I’ll have to pay for it myself, and I’m not interested in taking out a lot of loans. I want to work for a few years first, save money, and then go back [to school]. I am still unsure what degree I would like to pursue next so this is where I can get experience and then go back. This also means a higher possibility of not going back, but this is my choice. It’s too much pressure to think about the next step while I’m still in the process of finishing undergrad.
In high school, I was so stressed out about [getting into] college. Now that I’ve made it here, I want to continue at my own pace.
Additional resources for first-generation students
Associate Professor of Practice and Internship Director Kristina Markos is willing to meet with any student in need of guidance. Markos says, “I was a first-gen student myself and there weren't any resources in the early 2000s, let alone faculty who had been in my shoes, so I'm always happy to lend a hand.” Markos offers these resources as a place to start:
- I like the way this piece, “Unlocking the potential of first-generation college students: Dr. Timeka Rashid,” frames how we should be viewing the first-gen experience: “As they thrive, first-gen students become agents of change, breaking generational cycles of inequality and shaping a society that is more equitable and prosperous for all.”
- “How To Build Your Network as a First-Generation Student,” offers some good tips. I teach similar tips and tricks in COMM 370 Internship, in which students develop a personal marketing plan, including resume, cover letter, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile.
- “First-Generation College Students & Student Employment: a National Student Employment Association Inclusive Excellence Project with Dr. Matt Newlin,” examines social capital and how students can start to build their network. The questions posed are significant for faculty to address when working with first-gen students to help prime them for success.