First-gen Stories from Faculty and Staff

Reynolds college president, Dr. Paula Pando, is a proud first-gen graduate, and so are many more of our faculty and staff. Here are some of their stories.

Dr. Paula Pando

Dr. Paula Pando

Educational Background: BA, Studies in the Arts; MA, Education Administration; Ed.D., Educational Leadership (Concentration in Community College Leadership)


Current Position: College President


Who influenced you?

I have often said that if my life is in any way considered a success-story, it was my parents who wrote the first words and have contributed to every single chapter. My parents left their native Chile for the same reason most immigrants leave their homeland - opportunity for their families. Education was the most important thing in our home. Reward or punishment was largely decided by report cards, test grades, parent/teacher nights, etc. My parents worked extra shifts to put my brother and I in private school, as our public schools were under-resourced, and the students ill-prepared as a result. I remember my dad drilling us on our times tables, world geography, capitols of European and South American countries (I memorized Hungary's capitol by thinking that when I was hungry, I was a pest! Budapest!). They worked incredibly long hours, and dedicated all of their free time to us. Beyond supporting us, my parents were, and continue to be, incredible role models. Through their example, my brothers and I share three clearly defined characteristics - a very strong work ethic (first in, last out, excellent work in between); fierce loyalty; and a wicked sense of humor. These qualities have served us well in our professional lives. I take my job very seriously, but I do not take myself too seriously. Francisco and Martita Pando are without a doubt, the greatest influence in my life.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

Stockton University's Dean of Students Office. Miss Rosa who was the Dean's secretary, and the Dean of Students himself, Dr. Marchetti. While my parents were committed to ensuring their kids went to college, they lacked the language or experience to help us navigate the application process, and everything else that followed. I was the first to go - I had to figure everything out on my own. Even though I was making good grades in my first semester, I felt very lost, alone, and overwhelmed. I remember thinking that I was not college material, and that I did not want to waste my parents' hard-earned savings. So I went to the Dean's office to let them know I was leaving - that I was just not cut out for college. To this day I am not sure why I felt I had to announce my imminent departure. In retrospect, I think it was Divine intervention if not sheer luck. I walked in, and announced to the secretary at the front desk that I leaving college, and wanted to know if there was any paperwork associated with the decision. Miss Rosa looked at me, and in the most maternal tone responded, "Honey, sit down for a minute. Breathe." I shared with her my tale of woe, tears flowing. "I have no friends! I don't belong! I don't fit in! I miss my family!" With warmth and care she responded, "Young lady I can see you have great potential. You must finish the semester! There are only three weeks left, and if you leave now, you leave with nothing. At least if you finish the semester, and then decide not to return, you will have 15 college credits to take someplace else down the road - maybe even at a college near home. But finish this semester. You'll see! I know you can do this! We are here for you!" I never made it in to see the Dean that day because my conversation with Miss Rosa gave me what I needed to keep going - confidence and a safety net. I did finish the semester, the year, and four years later, the degree. I continued to check in with her that next semester, and ultimately landed a work-study job in that office. That is when I discovered a career in Student Affairs. Watching the Dean of Students, Dr. Jim Marchetti work with and advocate for students inspired me. He treated the president of the student body and the student being dismissed from the university with equal respect and dignity. Genuine love and concern for students - all students. That office - those people- helped to put me on an incredibly rewarding path I am still on thirty years later. Every student matters. Every person has the power to help a student succeed.



Dr. Wendy Bolt

Educational Background: BA in Psychology; MA in Counseling Psychology; EdD in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation

Current Position: Dean of Students


Who influenced you?

My Grandmother! She was an amazing woman who taught school in a one room school back in the 1920's. She always encouraged me to have "options" in life and I learned early on that meant getting an education! Her daughter (my mother), one of the hardest working individuals I have ever known, also encouraged me to always "move forward" in life. If you experience an obstacle, you keep working to find a way around, over, or under the obstacle to get to the other side! These two women have inspired me more than any others as related to perseverance and setting and reaching your goals! I am most fortunate to have their support as my core foundation!


Who or what made the biggest impact?

After I made the big decision to start college, I was so very fortunate to find "my person" at New River Community College who would help me understand this world of higher education, something of which I knew very little! I walked into an Introduction to Psychology class and met an instructor (Brenda Lott) who chose to take me under her wing and show me how to navigate this new world. She helped me to understand things like what program I needed to be in to transfer to a 4 year school and major in Psychology. She helped me understand FAFSA and applications deadlines. She walked me through how in the world one completed an application for a 4 year school and for graduate school after that. It was because she cared and took the time to show me that I could, in fact, do this college thing and that I was, in fact, smart enough to do quite well, that I finished and kept "moving forward." I stand on the shoulders of so very many folks who helped me along the way and Brenda Lott will always be the one main person who helped me find my way and stay on track!



Ronda Bond

Educational Background: I am a 1st gen who began my educational journey at State Technical Community College in Memphis, TN. I then transferred to the University of Memphis to complete my bachelors; a few years later, I decided to pursue my Masters degree in Education and just this year, I completed my doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Current Position: Career Services Advisor


Who influenced you?

My parents and wonderful mentors I met along my life journey encouraged me to keep going


Who or what made the biggest impact?

My parents - they knew that education was the "keys to the kingdom." They wanted us to have access to better opportunities. My parents still continue to inspire me, and now my husband and our children have been my motivators during my graduate experience. Not to mention, many other family members, friends and college administrators who took interest in me, saw my potential and said these powerful words that I now say to students, "Have you ever thought about . . . ?"



Sherika Charity

Educational Background: I attended a public school system in rural Virginia (Surry County) where the teachers were invested in the success of its students, even beyond high school graduation. I am still in contact with many of them all these years later. After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Virginia and four-years later, graduated with a double-major in Economics and Sociology. After five years, I returned to school to complete my Master of Business Administration in Management degree from Strayer University. Currently, I am pursuing my PhD in Community College Leadership from Old Dominion University.

Current Position: Director of Financial Aid


Who influenced you?

My family influenced me to attend college. It was always an expectation of my family and a desire of mine to attend college. The question was never "If" but always "Where." I always knew I would attend college, because although my parents did not attend college, my family believed in the life-changing power of education and always encouraged me and provided me with opportunities to learn, in and out of the traditional classroom. When I was in 5th grade, an introduction to Dr. Joy Baytops (Davis) made a tremendous impact on my academic journey. Under Dr. Baytops' (Davis) leadership as the Project Coordinator, I participated in Project Mandala for Gifted Learners from 5th - 8th grade, at The College of William & Mary. I spent many Saturdays and summers participating in this academic and cultural enrichment program on the campus of The College of William & Mary. My high school math teacher, Ms. Marion King, also had a tremendous impact on my academic journey and pathway to college. She was a tough teacher, because it was her goal to push (or pull, if necessary) the very best out of each of her students. While teaching the math course curriculum, she taught us all how to accept challenges and to find a resolution.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

My family and closest friends made the biggest impact during my college experience. Regardless of how things were going, good, bad, or indifferent, I knew my family was just a phone call and a couple of hours drive, and there was nothing that would keep them from me, if and when I needed them, even when it was not necessarily a true need. Special thank you to my aunt and second-mother, Evelyn, also a University of Virginia alumnae. I could also depend on all of my closest friends from home, most of whom have been my friend since elementary school and all of whom were also experiencing college life and being away from home, semi-adulting, for the first time. Although we attending many different colleges and universities, we were determined to complete, "no friend left behind."


Just after my high school graduation, I had a chance opportunity to meet Mrs. Lila Camp-Young. This encounter resulted in Mrs. Camp-Young and the Camp Foundation awarding me an unexpected scholarship, which surprisingly was awarded each of my four years at the University of Virginia. This scholarship tremendously helped reduce the financial burden of financing my education, so I could focus on the reason I was there, to earn the degree. I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Lila Camp-Young and the Camp Foundation.


Also, there were three very special faculty members at the University of Virginia, Dean Sylvia Terry (UVA Office of African-American Affairs), Dr. Edwin Burton (UVA Economics Faculty), and Professor Susan Perry (UVA Accounting Faculty and my mentor) that greatly impacted my collegiate journey at the University of Virginia. Under Dean Terry's leadership, the Peer Advisor Program created an opportunity for me to meet an upperclassmen and fellow in-coming students prior to my arrival at the University and helped to facilitate a smooth transition. Understanding the value of this program, as an upperclassmen, I served as a Peer Advisor to incoming first-year students. Attending an economics lecture class with more students in it than the total number of students in my entire high school, Dr. Burton was able to make every student feel special. I still reminisce on the many off grounds lunches that we shared with other classmates. Professor Perry served as my mentor and provided me with an opportunity to serve as a research intern. Each of these experiences enhanced my experiences at the University of Virginia.


Katelyn Eden

Educational Background: BS in communications at Radford University and an M.Ed. in Higher Education & Leadership at Old Dominion University

Current Position: Counselor of First Year Initiatives


Who influenced you?

I was truthfully not that great of a High School student and struggled a bit both socially and academically. I never thought I was good enough for college and wasn't sure what my next steps would be. I applied to a few colleges at the last minute because it was what all of my friends were doing and thankfully my mom took time off of work and we did a whole week of college tours. I am so thankful she chose to do that because it helped spark my motivation and desire to attend college and see what I was truly capable of. I went on to get a 4.0 GPA in undergrad thanks so all of the resources in college!


Who or what made the biggest impact?

Once in college, I was very lucky to make friends with the Resident Assistant that supervised our hall. I applied to become an RA after seeing her role, and that set my path for many future leadership roles in residence life, admissions, and orientation.

I also had an English teacher who really took me under her wing and helped me identify what my strengths and weaknesses were. Without her, who knows what major I would have ended up with.



Kristen Holt

Educational Background: BS degree in Psychology, MA degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Ed.S. degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Current Position: Counselor of Student Support Services


Who influenced you?

My parents prioritized education above all else growing up. Grades were paramount and we were always expected to try our hardest. While they didn't know how to talk about college, the college timeline, or college exploration activities (such as college fairs, college visits, etc.), it was always expected I would go to college.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

While at college, I struggled with understanding the college norms that are never explained or taught. I never spoke to a professor before or after class, they intimidated me. I had no idea what office hours were for and so I never went. I thought tutoring was for students who were failing and so I didn't reach out for help if I was confused on a topic or assignment. I went from a high achieving high school student to a college student who had never learned how to study or manage complex assignments. College felt very lonely to me and I never felt like I truly belonged. Instead I suffered from imposter syndrome and assumed I was the only one feeling lost and alone.


It wasn't until graduate school when I started working on my dissertation about first generation students that I started having conversations with others about my struggles and difficulties. I learned that I had several professors who were FGCS themselves and rallied behind my dissertation focus. I had colleagues who were also FGCS. It was then that I realized that the students who know the unspoken norms and how to do college are more visible, but that doesn't mean there aren't other students just like me who are sitting there not knowing how to speak up or what to make of different things. My graduate professors really encouraged me to push to address the needs of FGCS and that's why I went into a career in higher education so I can ensure others don't feel as lost as I once did.



Kimberly Rose

Educational Background: BS in Medical Technology, with a Specialty Certification in Blood Bank from ASCP

Current Position: Instructor Med Lab Tech


Who influenced you?

When I was in high school my mom encouraged me to take secretary classes such as typing, stenographer, and so forth. I signed up for my senior year for a coop program which provided real world work experience during high school for credit. I had the opportunity to work as a unit secretary in a local hospital. It was then that I was introduced to the laboratory. I was fascinated by the job and I had the opportunity to learn more about the profession. It was my desire to work in a hospital lab so I went to college to pursue this dream. My sister also was at the time just finishing her nursing BS. We were the first to go to college in our family.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

I think that the thing that made the biggest impact during college was my clinical experience in the hospital settings. It allowed me to see what areas of the clinical laboratory that I was interested in working in. It also allowed me to visit and work in different hospitals throughout my city. This enabled me to get several job opportunities after completing my rotations. Learning for others in my profession was very valuable.



Dr. Terricita Sass

Educational Background: Bachelor's in Accounting, Master's in Urban Affairs, Ph.D. in Education

Current Position: Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success


Who influenced you?

My parents were poor teenagers living in segregated South Carolina. Though they both finished high school before I was born, their options for work were limited and their families did not have the means to even consider college. But they grew up in an era where the only way a kid had a chance was an education. So they stressed school, studying and getting good grades. I moved around a bit and had to work hard to catch up when I changed schools. When I was in middle school, one of my best friends was from what was then called Yugoslavia. Her parents were both college graduates and I listened to them and observed how they lived differently. They had means to do more things as a family and I wanted that. As I started to connect the dots between how they lived and the pushing of my father to work hard in school, I got it in my head, I had to go to college. After that, no one was talking me into it. It was something I knew I had to do. High school simply was process I had to go through to get there. There were no question of would I go but rather where would I go and how would I pay for it.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

Outside of my parents, my admissions counselor Brenda Brown was the most impactful person in college. She recruited me as part of the admissions process but became my 'go to' particularly in the first year. She wasn't my official advisor but she served as mentor and I could depend on her in navigating all things college. If she could not help me, she knew where I needed to go. She encouraged me to get involved in organizations, assume leadership roles and even pledge a sorority. Brenda Brown was my ACE in college.



Stephen P. Sowulewski

Educational Background: A.S. (Pre-Pharmacy; Delta College), B.S. (Exercise Science & Sports Medicine; Lake Superior State University), M.A. (Health Promotion and Public Health), Ph.D. (Education and Health Behavior; VCU)

Current Position: Professor of Health Science in the School of Health Professions


Who influenced you?

My parents were huge supporters for me getting my college education.


Who or what made the biggest impact?

The late James Moody (Professor Emeritus of History & Humanities at Lake Superior State University)-- he was such a role model to me that I knew right then and there that I must become a college professor. His wit and intellect will live on forever!