“A catalyst for change”: first-generation student at Polytechnic shares experience

Suzy Meh, a current sophomore at Purdue Polytechnic. (Photo provided)

The following piece is an interview conducted last semester with Suzy Meh, a student in Purdue’s human resources development major (or HRD). HRD is under Purdue Polytechnic’s Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation (TLI), which fulfills the college’s goal of advancing technology disciplines by preparing students to be executives and decisionmakers in technology-focused industries.

In part, this interview with Meh was conducted in order to understand the perspective of a first-generation college student. “First-gen” students make up over 15% of the Polytechnic’s current student body. The perspectives of first-gen students are important for universities, as the lack of a multigenerational bias from within their family prepares them to be accurate evaluators of higher education’s return-on-investment.


Purdue Polytechnic Newsroom: Can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a bit about your background and major at Purdue?

Suzy Meh: My name is Suzy Meh, and I come from Carmel, Indiana, although I was born in Thailand. I am currently a sophomore, pursuing a degree in human resource development. I chose this major because I have a keen interest in the leadership skills it offers. Moreover, I am excited about the opportunity to enter the combined degree program between TLI and the graduate program at Daniels School of Management, where I can earn a master's in human resource management. This unique pathway aligns perfectly with my career goals and aspirations.

First-generation experience

What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

Being a first-generation student means that I am one of the first in my family to earn a bachelor's degree. Thus, I also believe this signifies an opportunity for me to bring about change and influence future generations regarding the importance of education.

How did your family react when you decided to pursue higher education?

My family fully supported my pursuit of higher education, as they did not have the opportunity to do so themselves. They see me as a catalyst for change, a chance to shape our family’s future and make a lasting impact.

Challenges and support

What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a first-generation student, and how have you overcome them?

I face challenges as my family, especially my parents, struggle to comprehend the workload I bear and often expect assistance in spite of my limited time as a full-time student. To address this, I am learning to communicate effectively and express my feelings openly, as well as my schedule. Additionally, I encounter financial hurdles occasionally, as I cannot rely on them for financial support and must generate my income, which I’ve done through part-time jobs.

Community and involvement

Have you been involved in any student organizations, clubs, or extracurricular activities? How have these experiences enriched your college life?  

Currently, I serve as the Director of Internal Affairs for the Purdue EDM Club, act as an ambassador for Purdue Polytechnic, participate in Women in Technology (WIT), and I am a member of the Defense Civilian Training Corps for the Department of Defense. These roles taught me the significance of effective leadership, encouraging innovative thinking and utilizing resources. Overall, they’ve benefitted me greatly and helped me feel part of something, in addition to making friends.

Are there any mentors or professors who have played a significant role in your academic and personal development?

In my current academic journey, I am fortunate to have supportive professors. One of them, in particular, dedicated his free time to assisting me with internship interviews. Additionally, Toni Munguia consistently supports me and the women in the Polytechnic by connecting us with valuable opportunities. It was through Toni's guidance that I learned about the Defense Civilian Training Corps, for instance.

Career aspirations

What are your career goals, and how has your education at Purdue Polytechnic prepared you for them?

Currently, my ultimate goal is to obtain a master's in human resource management. Purdue Polytechnic has prepared me for this aspiration by providing an undergraduate program in human resource development. Through this program, I have the opportunity to pursue a combined degree, allowing me to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree within four years. The Polytechnic education has equipped me with essential leadership skills, emphasized the importance of building connections, encouraged innovative thinking and taught me how to leverage technology to prepare for the future workforce.

Are there any specific industries or fields you are interested in pursuing after graduation?

My present plan after graduation involves entering an industry related to agriculture, technology, or manufacturing.

Advice for future first-generation students

What advice would you give to incoming first-generation students who are just starting their college journey?

I advise incoming students to take advantage of the resources available around them, connect with faculty and fellow students, and make the best out of their college experience.

Personal growth

How do you feel you've grown personally and professionally during your time at Purdue Polytechnic?

Currently, I am gaining many important skills, including understanding the importance of making the first move and appropriately interacting with professionals and students.

Closing thoughts

Is there anything else you'd like to add or share about your experiences as a first-generation student at Purdue Polytechnic?

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to attend Purdue and pursue a profession in Human Resources. I am incredibly excited about the future and hope to make a meaningful impact.


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