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First Generation Week: How Tyesha White is solving the mysteries of college - and her career

Tyesha’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 student Tyesha White

Tyesha White is a forensic investigation major at WVU Tech. She plans to put her skills to work wherever she can to help solve crimes, and has a particular interest in fingerprinting, photography, firearms and crime scene investigation.

She’s in her junior year now, and as she’s gearing up for her career, she can’t help but look back on the path she’s taken to get here. 

She was raised by her aunt in Baltimore, Maryland, and she spent her free time figuring out puzzles and poring over mystery novels. That fascination with solving riddles never faded. When she found out that she could turn that knack into a career – and help others while doing it – she jumped at the chance.

“My aunt and many faculty members at my high school encouraged me to go to college, not just because of my grades but because I was always so involved with so many things,” she said. “When I heard of the forensic investigation field, I instantly saw myself.”

“When I learned how college and grad school can help you, I made it my goal to go as far as I can,” she added. “I am very eager to have a successful career and to be able to provide for myself and my family. I also want to be a role model for my little sister, so that she will also want to go to college.”

As a first-generation student, she wasn’t sure where to start. Luckily, she had some help.

“At my high school, we had an advisor that helped all juniors and seniors look at and apply for schools. They also took us to college fairs and campuses,” she said.

She said that hunting for colleges was a great bonding experience for her and her aunt, who drives a transit bus for the city.

“Whenever I found a school I was interested in, I always read to her about it and we would look at the pros and cons together,” she said.

But even with so many folks in her corner, she says the process was stressful.

“The hard part was me looking at a college like it was a great big thing and thinking that I did not have the right level of skills to get in. My aunt and sibling kept faith in me because, after every application, I automatically felt that I would not get accepted,” she said. 

But she did get accepted. And what’s more, her hard work as a student paid off, and she was awarded the prestigious Henrietta Lacks Dunbar Health Science Scholarship from Johns Hopkins.

So in the fall of 2015, she packed up her life and moved to Tech’s campus.

“A lot of students come prepared with stories of when their parents went to college. Me, on the other hand, I came to college knowing things from movies and books,” she said.

Tyesha quickly learned that the stories she learned about college weren’t so accurate.

“I am still learning how to deal with the college life,” she joked.

She’s had some help along the way. First-generation students are eligible for programs like TRIO Student Support Services, so White signed up as soon as she could.

“The SSS program definitely took an unnecessary load off of me from my very first day on campus. Knowing where resources are and how much help I qualify for released a lot of stress,” she said.

For White, using tools for first-generation students is a no-brainer. She said that the services help to keep her on track, and she’s a regular in the office because she sees the people in the program as part of her extended family.

“Today, I receive help from the SSS every day, whether it is tutoring, printing, advising or advice,” she said.

In the years since, White says that she’s found a new level of confidence in her own future. She’s also met and worked with a lot of students who are the first in their family to attempt a degree. She said students shouldn’t be ashamed of being classified as “first-generation.”

“My first advice would be to never be afraid to let people know that you don’t know what you are doing. And never be afraid to ask for help because, if you don’t, then you won't truly learn about all the help you can get,” she said.

“Do not hesitate to take everything in about the college life, and know that you are never on your own,” she said.