First-Gen: Marlene Tromp, Former Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

evc-tromp-200x200My father was a mechanic in a soda ash plant, a trona mine, and a power plant.  My mother was an old school ("one-ringy-dingy") telephone operator whose health eventually forced her into early retirement.  My Dad was brilliant, but was unable to complete a degree with the financial demands faced by a working-class person. Our parents both encouraged us to go to college and my Dad worked a lot of overtime to help me pay for the balance left on my undergraduate degree after I applied all my scholarships.  My sister and I were the first in our families to complete college.

What motivated me to go to college:  I had tremendous support to go to school.  My Dad told me I could be the President of the United States if that’s what I wanted.  My parents made sacrifices to send their children to school. I wanted to go to college, so I could leverage the power of a university education to make the world a better place.  I feel very fortunate that I get to do that work. 

What the biggest challenge I encountered was as a first-generation student and how I overcame it:  I worked three jobs during the school year to put myself through school when my savings account drained.  I was working three jobs during the summer as well. My best strategies were to connect with others in my situation, plan, and to keep my eyes on the goal.  I tried to use my time efficiently and even make use. When my shift ended at the pizza parlor, I would study there, because there were no distractions. 

How my background has helped me:  Creative resiliency.  I had seen people face enormous challenges and pick themselves up, dust off, and carry on.  I had to do that in terms of a whole range of challenges, even intellectual ones. Once, the oil filter dropped off of my car while I was driving down the highway, and my engine seized; I couldn’t afford to repair the car for many months.  I had to work to stay in school, and I had to have a car to get to work at the Country Club where I waited tables. That meant I had to put together a creative car-pooling program with my friends, so I could still do my job. I didn’t give up when I faced the obstacle. 

What I would tell my first-year self:  I was working so hard I nearly got all the way through college without recognizing how amazing and fun my classes were.  I remind students all the time to shift their paradigm and enjoy college—the learning as well as the people and the social events.

The best thing about my college experience was:  Feeling like I had changed my life, so I could do my part to change the world. 

How being a first-generation student influences me (and/or my work) now:  I learned even more ways to have what Carol Dweck (a Stanford researcher on “grit”) calls “Growth Mindset”: the recognition that the things that challenge us the most are also often the very ones that help us genuinely to grow (not a sign that we shouldn’t be doing that work or that we don’t belong there).

Watch former Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Marlene Tromp's, first-gen profile video.