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Into the unknown: A first-generation student's experience at ASU


Portrait of ASU student Lenoa Williamson.

Lenoa Williamson is enrolled in an accelerated master’s program, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in innovation in society with plans to continue into the public interest technology graduate program, both offered through ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Courtesy photo

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November 03, 2023

Being a first-generation college student, Lenoa Williamson was unsure of the journey she would embark on at Arizona State University. The student from Avondale, Arizona, is now in her second year of college.

“I was scared of the unknown but exhilarated to be the first to witness and experience such a great chance to study something I loved and create a career from that passion,” Williamson said.

She will be sharing more about her ASU experience at an upcoming panel event on Nov. 6, hosted by the College of Global Futures, which will also include three other first-generation students associated with the college.

For Williamson, it was easy to feel like an imposter at first, but keeping a firm grasp on her values and goals as a first-generation college student has helped her stay grounded and motivated as she continues her studies and shapes her ideal college experience.

She is enrolled in an accelerated master’s program, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in innovation in society with plans to continue into the public interest technology graduate program, both offered through the School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Williamson was initially drawn to the innovation in society degree due to its expansive and exploratory nature. In her experience, the broad disciplines covered in the program encourage developing a wide array of professional skills such as critiquing, analyzing and building to design creative technological solutions.

“Curating the foundations to design a better future for all of us, and understanding the impacts of science and innovation in society, are the biggest takeaways from this program,” Williamson said. 

Some of her favorite parts of being a college student so far have been taking advantage of the opportunities ASU has to offer. She has been able to further her education, make connections with other students, work with a variety of engaging professors and discover a deeper understanding of life lessons outside the classroom that she is sure she will cherish well beyond graduation. 

Williamson has received strong support from her family and community, which she credits as a contributing factor in her success. 

“My family has been the backbone in supporting and encouraging me to be exploratory but determined in everything I do,” she said. “My friends and close relationships have been an outlet when things get hard, and a safe place to regain peace and motivation to try again. They will always be the people I appreciate and relationships I nurture as time continues.”

After graduating, she dreams of working in the planning department of an established technology company, joining the “best of the best in innovation and future planning” to ensure their longevity in an ever-changing world. 

“I feel I can make a difference through my ambition to be different and bring more wherever I go; this ‘more’ can include community, wisdom, compassion, growth or even laughter, and I want to be the one to do it,” Williamson said.

Although she has a few years left in her undergraduate degree program, she already has some advice for potential students who may feel a little overwhelmed about being the first in their family to pursue higher education at a university like ASU. 

“Research the program that highlights your current skills, plan a career path that fuels your passion and critique that plan whenever needed,” she said. “And, finally, make significant use of the resources ASU has to offer.”

Williamson’s last piece of advice was a reminder that ASU is a welcoming place, measured by whom it includes and how they succeed.

“Every year, ASU continues to reform and curate specific methods that advance the student body in research, education, work opportunities and renowned staff,” Williamson said. “You are the curator of your path; ASU has people and windows of possibility waiting for your arrival.”

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