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University of Missouri

Generation First

Senior Ashlee Reece is on a mission to help other first-generation MU students.

Ashlee Reece

Ashlee Reece, a senior communication major, founded Fundamental Firsts, a student organization for other first-generation or nontraditional college students that helps them navigate paying for their education and graduating from college. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Mizzou’s campus size isn’t what Ashlee Reece found daunting. Coming from a high school graduating class of 500, big didn’t bother her.

But the first-generation college student from Rialto, Calif., did find a lot about university life overwhelming — particularly paying for it. It was a struggle knowing what the Student Financial Aid office needed, and when and what all the forms meant. Reece’s great aunt has a doctorate and had always been her mentor in school matters, but her great aunt’s college experience was decades old and didn’t include computerized records, email and paperless billing.

She knows her parents love her, but they don’t know how to help. Neither work in fields that require a college degree. “I’m on a very individual journey,” Reece explains.

There was nobody there to tell me, ‘This is what [Student] Financial Aid means when they say this,’ ” she says. “I didn’t understand that, so it took a lot of [phone] calls and meetings with people. I was lost.”

Reece, a communication major, found mentors to help her, and by her junior year, she had learned enough to help other students from similar backgrounds. She met with her freshman adviser, Vicki Boyd-Kennedy, and Carol Howald from the Student Success Center, and put together Fundamental Firsts, a student organization that supports first-generation and nontraditional college students by guiding them to resources on scholarships, financial aid and graduate school.

Reece is looking for alumni to speak to students about how to succeed in college. Now finishing its first year, the group is small — just 10 members — but they have plans to grow. Reece is applying to law school for fall 2013 and is optimistic her club will help students long after her she leaves Mizzou.