Jaye Cee Whitehead '00 | "Ask Questions"

Jaye Cee WhiteheadJaye Cee Whitehead ‘00 came from a small “area” in Wyoming.

She’s careful to call it an area, because there was no town. Her high school class graduated 20 people; two went to college.

“My dad dropped out of school in the eighth grade. My mom graduated high school,” she said. “People told me I was smart and I should go to college, but that’s all I knew. They said I should be a lawyer, because I’m argumentative.”

It was a high school English teacher who helped her find Pacific University.

“I got a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, but my English teacher told me I should get out,” Whitehead recalled. She told her about private schools, including Pacific, and helped her apply.

“I got here and I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “In my first FYS class, I got a syllabus. I didn’t even know what that was.”

So she asked. She learned to ask questions, even if they were scary.

“I remember being terrified of office hours. You think, ‘These people are so important, I can’t just go in and take up their time,’” Whitehead said. “If you feel that, fight it. You should feel that kind of privilege.”

Whitehead not only graduated from Pacific with a bachelor’s in sociology, she went on to a master’s and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Today, she is an associate professor of sociology at Pacific.

Her message to fellow first-generation students: “If you have a question, come ask me. I’m happy to go out to coffee.”

First-Generation at Pacific | About 24 percent of Pacific University undergraduate students are “first-generation,” meaning they are the first in their families to attend college. Pacific faculty and staff are seeking out ways to better support those students through their college experience, including a recent luncheon where staff and faculty like Whitehead shared their own first-generation experiences. “There are people here to help you,” said College of Arts & Sciences Dean Lisa Carstens.”We already know you can do it; you’re here. We just want to make it smoother.”

Apr. 13, 2016