First-Generation Success

Keegan Bauer

Keegan Bauer '19 always dreamed of earning a four-year degree, despite the obstacles she would face as a first-generation student. Growing up in Alpena, Michigan in a single-parent household, she had to figure out how to apply to colleges on her own, as her mother and older siblings had never gone through the process. The first time she visited Grand Valley, Keegan was impressed by all the resources and help she received.

“Grand Valley is very open and willing to help first-generation students,” she said. “There was always someone there to guide me, whether it was navigating the financial aid process, applying for scholarships, or helping me figure out what classes to take my first semester. There are a variety of resources available to tap into.”

Grand Valley welcomes first-generation students with open arms, recognizing the challenges they face while experiencing college from an entirely new perspective. This year, the final year of the Laker Effect campaign, the focus is on these students who often need extra support with programs like unpaid internships and study abroad.

Bryan ’98 and Amanda ’99 Proctor, who were first-generation students themselves, give to Grand Valley to help students like Keegan.

“We are both deeply committed to the value of education, and we especially recognize the value of supporting first-generation students,” said Amanda. “These students often place especially high expectations on themselves for success, even though they may be at a disadvantage relative to their peers who can draw upon their parents’ college networks for knowledge and support.”

Keegan has directly benefited from first-generation student support. Having never traveled outside of the country, when it came time to complete her required internship for the advertising and public relations program, she knew that it would be a great opportunity to gain experience abroad. When looking into internships abroad at the Padnos International Center, she discovered a summer internship in Dublin, Ireland at the Irish Academy of Public Relations. However, there was one main problem—the position would be unpaid.

“The idea of having an unpaid internship worried me. I pay for tuition by myself, so every summer I would waitress or do a paid internship. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go,” she said.

Thanks to receiving awards like the Career Center’s Unpaid Internship Award, Keegan was able to fly to Ireland and spend nine weeks at her internship. Her main task was helping the Irish Academy of Public Relations develop a new sister company—she wrote memos to send to potential investors, designed logos for new courses, and wrote copy for informational materials. She also gained multi-cultural experience, working with employees from France, China, Germany, and Spain.

“It was a super unique experience working with people from all different cultures and combining our different perspectives to make a final product that appeals to a global audience,” she said.

Keegan mentioned that there’s no way she would have been able to complete her internship abroad if it weren’t for the awards she received, as she was paying for the experience by herself.

“I was working two paid internships on top of my 15 credit hour load while keeping up with the organizations I’m a part of, and even then I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to afford it. When I found out I received the awards, it really solidified that I would be able to do this,” she said.

After graduation in April, Keegan plans on looking for a job at a nonprofit in Grand Rapids, as she’s fallen in love with the West Michigan community during her time at Grand Valley. She hopes to find a career where she can focus on community engagement and giving back.

Keegan would like to encourage the Grand Valley family to give to the First Generation Student Support fund, as she never would have had this life-changing experience that will set her apart in the job search without support from donors.

“For so many students it’s a requirement to complete an internship, and many of them are unpaid. It can be really challenging because it takes up time where you could be doing a part-time job. Having funds that help students like me gain professional experience is so valuable for us,” she said.

Learn more about the Lakers Helping Lakers Challenge, which helps first-generation students with their greatest needs.