Clemson University Feature Stories

Jennifer Rahn celebrates her White Coat ceremony with her mother and nephew.

How the FIRST program helped alum Jennifer Rahn get to medical school

By Christina Rossi
Alumni Association, Class of 2012

At 7 years old, Jennifer Rahn ’10 decided she wanted to be a doctor. Today she is making her dreams come true at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, but getting there was not easy. As the first person in her family to attend college, she could not call home for advice if she had questions about life on campus or needed guidance in a class. She began receiving emails from the FIRST program, Clemson’s group that helps students who are first-generation college students. But taking 20 credit hours as a biological sciences major, Rahn just never had time to read those emails.

After her first semester, Rahn’s father passed away. Among condolences was one from Chrissy, a senior and FIRST program mentor who had previously reached out to her. At that moment, Rahn decided she should give the FIRST program a chance.

Rahn, second from right, rubbing Howard’s Rock with Sherry, a FIRST coordinator, Anita, a FIRST mentor, and the Tiger The FIRST program helped Rahn realize that she was not inferior to other college students on campus. The encouragement she received from her mentors was pivotal in her development as a Clemson student. “It was finally letting me know that even though no one in my family had been to college that I was on the same level as anyone else at the university, which I don’t think I really felt before,” she said.

FIRST helped her deal with the pressure of the competitive atmosphere within the Calhoun Honor’s College. She says, “The program just gave me the encouragement and support to let me know that I wasn’t inferior.”

Not only did Rahn participate in the program, but she was also to help FIRST grow in numbers. At first, only about three or four people attended the meetings. After Rahn became a mentor, 15 to 16 people began gathering to play games, cook dinner or just hang out. She fondly remembers groups of 20 members getting together for lunch in the dining halls or spending time together outside of program activities – something that didn’t happen her freshman year on that large of a scale. Rahn also had the privilege to meet two famous FIRSTs on campus, President Jim Barker and football coach Dabo Swinney. She believes that having examples of successful first-generation college graduates on campus helps students to see their potential.

Most people thought Rahn’s dream to become a doctor was just that, a dream. Her motivation to work hard was mostly just to prove that she could do it. However, she admits that Clemson’s FIRST program helped her get there. “It is one of the most important things that happened at Clemson,” Rahn says, “The FIRST program was an integral part of my life.”

Tell us your story

If you were a first-generation graduate, please take a moment to tell us your story. Fill out the short form found here, and we’ll send you a free alumni car decal and a FIRST pin. Go Tigers!

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  • Barbara J. Speziale
    Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies
  • 864-656-1550

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