Focus on post-graduation

Speaker encourages first-generation students to keep looking ahead


Kelly Feng

Eliot Nardi shared his experiences as a first-generation student at UW-Madison and now as a professional pursuing an MBA during an “I’m First Gen Week” event on Nov. 8.

Kelly Feng, Managing Editor

The Madison College Office of Retention Initiatives and Student Engagement (RISE) held a special presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 8, called “Navigating the Workplace as a first-generation professional.”
It was one of several “I’m First Gen Week” activities RISE held throughout the week of Nov. 7-11.
Led by Eliott Nardi, the event had a turnout of nearly 20 students, many identifying as first-generation students.
Nardi shared his experience as a first-generation student at UW Madison, professional in the working world and returning student now pursuing an MBA.
The speaker’s main takeaway was educating his audience on the different approaches to college between multi-generation and first-generation students.
Nardi noted that multi-generational college students often see college as a springboard for internships and careers. As early as high school, these students have career roadmaps already planned.
For first-generation students, just taking classes and graduating is the goal. With graduation as the main and often only focus, countless first-generation students feel limbo after leaving college, many without a clear career direction.
The speaker said he couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of thinking outside of graduation, having career goals and reaching out to others who can provide information and perspective.
Nardi admitted he was only looking to get a degree and wasn’t farsighted enough to consider a career after graduation.
He regrets not thinking about setting himself up for life after graduation. He encouraged the audience to shift their attention to post-graduation.
“Change that focus. College is going to happen. Graduation is going to happen,” said Nardi. “What’s that job look like? What’s that career look like? How do I set myself up to get the experiences to make me competitive and to meet the people who will put my resume to the top?”
In addition to advising the students to utilize career centers, he also encouraged them to use their college years to explore different subjects and find what interests them and what doesn’t so they can narrow down their interests.
Many at Madison College are working students, and some have been offered jobs. Nardi said that if they are offered a position, they should ask themselves if that company shares the same core values.
He noted the topic of diversity is found everywhere these days, and some institutions are only paying lip service. He encouraged his audience to learn if the company values diversity and have conversations with current and past employees.
If they take a position, they should find their “supports,” other first-generation POCs, as soon as they start working.
Nardi urged the students to develop essential habits in the workplace, like writing things down, being the squeaky wheel and taking care of themselves.
By “squeaky wheel,” Nardi means self-advocacy. He encouraged the audience to be specific with their career goals and inform their supervisor whenever they meet monthly, bi-weekly or weekly.
Nardi was asked about his experience and what he had learned in the workplace.
He can’t say enough about supporting oneself.
“My biggest takeaway, and I know it’s really hard, and it was hard for me and still is,” said Nardi, who took a moment to reflect. “Self-advocacy is the key – the introspection to say I need help with something.”
Nardi says first-generation students must reach out and be vulnerable.
“Ask someone for that help and continue to ask until you get what you think you need.”
Other events held throughout “I’m First Gen Week” included:
• A First Gen Resource Fair on Nov. 7.
• A First Gen Student Showcase where first-generation students shared their stories.
• A First Generation Student Celebration featuring a keynote by Dr. Damira J. Grady, vice president of Equity, Inclusion and Community relations.