Being First

Being the first in your family to attend college can be overwhelming. There are people at UChicago who've been in your shoes, and they're here to help! These First-Gen Faculty know what it's like to work multiple jobs or to call home and have your family not understand just how much time studying takes up.  

Read their stories, reach out to them, and remember that we're all in this together!

Daisy Delogu

Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

Wiebolt 226

Preferred method of contact: email

Topics of interest: My research is in the area of medieval French literature, but I really love the study of literature in broad terms.

I'm a transplant to the midwest (from Maine), the parent of two boys, both enrolled in Chicago public schools. I come from a family of educators. My father was the only child of a single, immigrant, mother. He instilled in us a firm belief in the capacity of education to permit individuals to reach their fullest potential. I have served as a Mellon Mays mentor, have taught high school students through the College Bridge program, and have long been involved in the Collegiate Scholars Program. I would be glad to talk to any student about any aspect of their experience here, or just to provide an ear.    

Chelsea Foxwell

Assistant Professor, Art History

CWAC 265

Preferred method of contact: email or office hours (sign up in Art History dept. main office)

Topics of interest: visual art, East Asian cultures and languages, travel, cross-cultural communication, classical music

I'm technically a second-generation college grad. My parents attended college locally, but they couldn't relate to the details of my college experience and were unable to help with my schoolwork or resume-building. In fact, in high school, many people in my family (not to mention my friends) made fun of me for studying and tried playfully, yet persistently, to make me stop. 

Full Bio

Seungmin "Sam" Hwang

Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology

Biological Science Learning Center R110

Preferred method of contact: e-mail

Topics of interest: Anything about life and science. 

 I grew up in Korea and came here to enjoy science. I will be happy to share my experiences and lessons that I have been learning with anyone interested. 

Jason MacLean

Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology


Preferred method of contact:  email and coffee discussions

Topics of interest: I'm available to discuss any topic particularly anything pertaining to school and career.  

I am a first-gen high school graduate who somehow never finished with school.  I grew up in a working class low-income neighborhood.  So I appreciate both the mundane and major challenges faced by students arriving on campus.  

Salikoko "Sali" Mufwene

Professor, Department of Linguistics

Wieboldt 411

Preferred method of contact: email

Topics of interest: Colonization, globalization, and language: The evolution of European languages, especially English and French, in the colonies; Language vitality/endangerment; Creoles and African American English; African languages, especially Bantu; The evolution of Language in mankind; Language and communication

I was born and attended undergraduate school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My socioeconomic background is very modest. My parents attended only the first three years of elementary school, in a Catholic mission, where they were Christianized. Soon after I was born, they moved to a small town, a commercial center in then Belgian Congo, where all children in my family could attend school. Formal education was then free before high school. 

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Mark Payne

Professor, Classics and the Committee on Social Thought

Classics 24

Preferred method of contact: email

Topics of interest: Literature, ecology. 

I am interested in talking to anyone with interests in the Humanities. I am the first and only person in my family to go to College, and I would be glad to talk about the transition from a non-academic background to life at a university like this one.


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Jennifer Scappettone

Associate Professor, Department of English
Committee on Creative Writing
Faculty Affiliate, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality

Walker 509

Preferred method of contact: in-person office hours; if not, email

Topics of interest: Modern and contemporary writing, visual arts, and performance. Translation and multilingualism. Architecture and urban planning. Urban and natural ecologies. The relationship between experimentation in the arts and community/global activism. 

As the first member of my immediate family to go to college, I know well what it means to grope one’s way through institutions with an illegible disability—without immediate role models or guidance, and without the financial and social advantages, or even stability, that enables those in elite environments to get ahead at an accelerated pace and to take risks. 

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Paul Vezina

Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience

Surgery Brain Research Pavilion (SBRP), J131

Preferred method of contact: office phone (773-702-2890) or e-mail

As a bilingual (French-English) first generation undergraduate and graduate student, I loved academics but often found myself struggling to navigate various situations that challenged my social, cultural and socioeconomic identity. I was very lucky to meet and befriend a few faculty members who were sensitive to my strengths and needs and with whom I could talk freely about my intellectual interests, my daily struggles, my budding career, and aspirations. While my work is in neurobiology, I am interested in a wide array of topics. These certainly include individuals’ life experiences at the University and in Chicago.   

Yau Wah

Professor, Department of Physics

HEP (High Energy Physics) 303

Preferred method of contact: email

Topics of interest: Symmetry breakings in particle physics, detectors and instrumentation, science education

Our potential is boundless, and the University brings us together to dig deep into our potential. It is gratifying to work and set examples with motivated students, particularly the first-generation and underprivileged ones to fully realize our unbound future.   

Tara Zahra

Professor, Department of HIstory

Social Sciences 503

Preferred method of contact: email

Topics of interest: Modern Europe, Nationalism, Migration, History of the Family, Human Rights, Central and Eastern Europe, Dance.

I was a first-generation college student from rural Pennsylvania (I attended Swarthmore College). It was an experience of culture shock in many ways. But I credit my own college experience with my decision to become a History professor. I am happy to connect with current students who are finding their own way at Chicago. 

Lawrence Zbikowski

Associate Professor, Music

Goodspeed Hall 207

Preferred method of contact: e-mail

Topics of interest: music (especially musical performance), humanistic studies, cognitive science

I’m the first generation of my family to go to college, and in my extended family I am the only one with a PhD working full-time in post-secondary education. On leaving high school I spent a year in vocational school, and put myself through the first years of college working as a bus mechanic. Before I went into academia I worked as a guitarist playing all sorts of music (ranging from classical to rock to country and western), and I still perform on an occasional basis. My principal research involves applying recent work in cognitive science (especially that done by cognitive linguists and cognitive psychologists) to various problems confronted by music scholars, with a particular focus on music theory and analysis. 

Full Bio