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First Generation Week: How Tech grad Brianna Whaley is doing her part to heal her community

Brianna’s story is part of a weeklong series celebrating first-generation Golden Bears. They’re the first in their families to earn a four-year degree, and they’re the students, alumni, faculty and staff who are showing the world how one big first step can change everything.

WVU Tech grad Brianna Whaley

Brianna grew up in South Point, Ohio. It’s almost as far south as one can travel and still be in the state, and just under 4,000 people call it home.

It’s also just across the river from Huntington, West Virginia, where her mom works as a secretary at a local law firm and where her father makes his living in food service at a nearby medical center. 

As a kid, Brianna always knew she wanted to help people, and she’s always had a soft spot for the health care field.

“I had a friend when I was younger and her mom worked in a long-term care facility. Whenever we would go to see her at work, I could see how passionate she was about her job and taking care of the residents there – but in a different way than direct patient care. It was really great to see that, and I knew then that administration in a health care facility was where I wanted to be,” she said.

She read everything she could about the field. College was a must, so she started looking. That’s when she found the Health Services Administration program at Tech.

“I instantly thought that it would be a good fit for me,” she said.

As a first-generation student, she didn’t have a lot of background in how the process worked. Shopping for schools was a new adventure. Completing college applications and sorting out financial aid was an unfamiliar experience.

And then there was moving away from home and approaching college life without knowing much about what to expect.

“Going away to college is a different experience for everyone, but not having an idea of what college is like was exciting and intimidating at the same time. It was a big leap for me because I was stepping out of my comfort zone, but I knew that if I wanted to be successful, it was something I needed to do,” she said.

She stuck it out, though, and wrapped up her degree at Tech in December of 2016.

These days, she’s back in South Point. She’s putting her skills to work as a human resources assistant at Valley Health Systems just across the river in Huntington. It’s part of a health care system that provides services to patients in West Virginia and Ohio.

At Valley, she works to recruit and orient new employees, helps employees with benefits and maintains personnel files, among other duties. 

“I really like doing this type of work because I get to see the health center in a different way than just patient care. I’m able to be a part of the hiring process to bring in efficient employees that will provide quality care to all individuals,” she said.

Brianna’s proud of the work she does because it helps underserved populations in the area access health care services. 

“It’s wonderful to be part of a team that provides pretty much any service to those who need us most,” she said.

Looking back, she’s glad she made that leap. That decision, she says, brought her out of her shell. It gave her a means to build the career she wanted and it introduced her to people she’d have never met otherwise.

“It was totally worth it. I was able to adapt to a new atmosphere, get out of my comfort zone, meet life-long friends and better myself all around. Without Tech, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I had during undergrad. Every experience helped mold me into a more reliable, organized and independent person,” she said.

Her advice to first-generation students? Treat every day like a learning opportunity.

“This is a new chapter in your life and, regardless of what people tell you, you can do anything you set your mind to. Even though you may not know what to expect, just keep an open mind because college is the perfect time for you to find yourself,” she said.