Asra Kamal, front of house assistant for the Elgin Community College Arts Center, immigrated to the U.S. with her family from India in 1986. Despite transitioning from one country to another, going away to college proved to be one of her biggest challenges because she would be the first in her family to do so. “My transition to college was more difficult than any other transition in my life,” said Kamal, “because I was figuring it out on my own."
Growing up, Kamal excelled in high school, graduating top ten of her class with honors. Throughout her high school experience, she participated in a Dual Credit program with Loyola University, spending two summers traveling to the campus and attending classes. From this, she knew Loyola was her college of choice.
Like many first-generation college students, the encouragement is there at home, but the guidance is not attainable. “My parents, from the beginning, had encouraged me to go into education and do well in school,” said Kamal. “I think the challenge with first-generation is that parents want you to do well, but they do not necessarily know of any resources that can help get you there.” For Kamal, her biggest resource guiding her into college and how to pay for it came from a school counselor. She helped Kamal with the application process, identifying and applying for scholarships, and became her go-to person for any college-related questions. “She was like my guiding angel at the time,” said Kamal.
Even with her high school counselor guiding her initial steps into college and a scholarship covering her first year, actually attending had its challenges, simply being farthest from home she ever was, figuring out herself financially, and adjusting to the difference from high school. Throughout her time there, Kamal held jobs on and off campus to pay her own way through. Despite this, Kamal continued to fall in love with learning and Loyola. After graduating from Loyola, she attended Western Illinois University for her Master’s in Higher Education Administration.
“Being first-generation can feel like a hardship, but you have to figure it out,” said Kamal. “It’s great because it teaches you responsibility, the value of time and money, and it helps you grow up a little bit.” Kamal landed her first job at Northwestern, working in Residence Life in off-campus housing for six years. She then transitioned to Adler University in their Student Life department before taking a short break to begin her family and finding her home here at ECC. “First-generation students have a very special place in my heart. It is a challenging time but a very rewarding one.”