First-Gen Faculty: Linda Werner (Adjunct Professor, Computer Science and Engineering Department)

photo of linda werner smiling in sunglasses


I grew up in a town in northern Connecticut, working summertimes in the tobacco fields when I was 14 and 15. Neither of my parents completed high school; my father drove a truck for a small plumbing and heating company and my mother worked in minimum wage jobs in factories. From the age of 16 I worked after school for money to pay for my health care and buy cloth to make my school clothes. I did very well in school. I got a 'free ride' for all of my higher education (I believe there was more financial support for promising students from poor families in the early 1970's). The digital age had arrived when I graduated with a B.A. in math and I found a job as a computer programmer trainee. I worked in the industry for nine years then decided to get a graduate degree in computer science. I loved graduate school, graduated with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCSD, and have been an educator and researcher in CS ever since.

What motivated you to go to college?

I loved math, did very well in school, and a small private university in Massachusetts offered me a full tuition scholarship for 4 years of university study with the condition that I earn good grades. I also was a Connecticut State scholar and received scholarships from the State of Connecticut that covered room and board costs. I figured it was the way to 'get out' of the poverty of my youth.

What’s the biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it?

I had never visited a college/university before arriving at the university at the beginning of freshman year. I could do math but I didn't know how to write an essay and didn't know how to ask for help.

How has your background helped you?

By working hard I learned how to learn. I knew that I didn't have anyone that I could rely on for financial support. I was determined to be successful.

What would you tell my first-year self now?

Visit your professors' offices. Introduce yourself. Ask for help if needed. Do the assigned reading. Be prepared for class. Review your class notes after class and before the next class. Do the homework.

What was the best thing about your college experience?

I learned that the world had so much to offer. There was unlimited food in the dining hall; intramural sports to be involved with; cultural events to attend; heat in the dorms, and all I had to do was do well in my classes to continue this life.

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now?

My research and volunteer activities have migrated to increasing diversity (both gender and socio-economic) in the computer science field.