Celebrating our first generation students at ANU

14 Mar 2023

You were always destined for a different way of life.

Have you ever heard of a first generation student? 

ANU students, alumni and staff who are the first in their immediate family to attend university are considered 'first generation'. 

Research* demonstrates that almost half of Australia's university student population are first generation students, who are known to experience a greater number of challenges throughout their journey towards and through higher education. 

This Alumni Week (Saturday 18 March to Friday 24 March), ANU is celebrating first generation staff, students and alumni as we acknowledge that being at university is a significant achievement, especially when you have stepped out of what is known or expected in your community. 

In the lead up to Alumni Week, On Campus spoke to a first generation student, Ms Natalia Burgess. 

As a third year student in the Bachelor of Criminology, Natalia is forging a different pathway thanherfamily.  

"Being the first person in my family to attend university makes me recognise the considerable amount of support, guidance, and assistance I have received both leading up to and during my university journey," Natalia said.  

Growing up in Bathurst, Natalia always knew she wanted to come to university.  

"I have always been interested in undertaking tertiary study, and worked hard to achieve eleven early entry offers from universities across Australiabefore my HSC exams." 

"However, choosing ANU was a no-brainer, especially due to the vast array of opportunities available to students. 

Completing secondary school at Scots All Saints College, Bathurst, Natalia felt inspired to go to university as several of her teachers  continuously encouraged her to pursue her dreams.  

"They really helped pave the way for my university future". 

Natalia also acknowledges that her mother, a single parent from Ukraine, had given up everything to give her the best chance of a university education. 

"Despite the numerous challenges I have experienced growing up with a single parent income and residing in a regional town, I have drawn inspiration from my mother who immigrated from Ukraine in persevering and overcoming obstacles so as to achieve my goals and dreams. 

My mum wanted nothing but the best for me - so when I got offered a spot at the top university in Australia, it was an unspoken rule that of course I was going to go." 

Alongsideher mum, Natalia's younger brother, who is currently in Year 12 this year, has also continued to support and encourage Natalia in her university journey.  

"My younger brother has been one of the biggest support systems in my life. We are very close." 

Following in his sister's footsteps, he also hopes to attend university next year.  

Now in the final yearof her degree, and happily living at Fenner Hall,Natalia is grateful for the unwavering support she has received from her family.  

"I am proud of my achievements and even more grateful for the sacrifices my mum has made for me to attend university in the first place.  

The support I have achieved from ANU throughout my university career is immense. Being a firstgeneration student is challenging by itself, but I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the caring and compassionate ANU staff." 

However, grappling with a sense of guilt has been a challenge for Natalia during her time at university, a feeling she finds other first generation students also experience.  

"When I'm sitting in a classroom, I often ask myself, why am I here when I should be at home helping my family?" 

"Perhaps I'm not meant to be here." 

In moments of doubt, Natalia is strengthened by her mother's words to her when she chose to attend university, 

"You were always destined for a different way of life". 

During her time at ANU, Natalia has realised thatbeing a first generationstudentshouldn't be considered a roadblock but rather an opportunity.  

"I want to show people that firstgeneration and other equity background students can do it. We are a diverse, resilient, determined, and hardworking community and we each bring different sets of skills and strengths to the table, whether that be in our residential halls, our classes or in our workplaces." 

"Being part of the first generation community at ANU, I have made lifelong friends." 

With graduation on the horizon, Natalia hopes to channel her experience as a first generation student into her future career.  

"Due to my personal experiences, I am deeply driven to work in law reform, with a focus on helping women and children within domestic and family violence circumstances."  

"I am proud to be a first generation student, and a student of ANU." 


*(O'Shea, May, Stone, 2015, p.5 "Breaking the barriers: supporting and engaging first-in-family university learners and their families").