Greenwood, SC – Societal and cultural norms are presenting unanticipated challenges for college students who are the first individuals in their family to pursue higher education.
West Virginia University sophomore Shyniece Sanders never could have anticipated the difficulties she would encounter leaving her small hometown to pursue an degree in petroleum engineering.
“It is never really what I expect when I come back home.” said Sanders. “It’s almost as if I learn and grow but nothing here does.”
This specific challenge of balancing newfound independence at a university while attempting to also provide an example of success for individuals who share similar circumstances is unique to some first generation students.
According to The National Center for Education Statistics, 30 percent of all entering freshmen are the first individuals in their families to attend college.
Sanders explained that within communities like Greenwood individuals who are able to successfully overcome squalid circumstances are assigned the role and responsibility of setting an example for the youth of that community.
What is more is that this added responsibility comes with added pressure to perform.
Within the community of Greenwood, Sanders has served as a community role model. She has been heavily involved in school athletics, her local Baptist church and even served as homecoming queen during her senior year.
“We become the super heroes. A lot of these guys don’t have anyone to look up to.” said Sanders.
She described a lack positive influences in her community makes her feel more compelled to make sure her impact on her community is on a consistent and lasting basis. However, she noted that for her this has often presented a challenge because of her need to simultaneously maintain her academic responsibilities.
“I feel like on top of everything else I have to do in the day I still have to call Isiah to make sure he’s on the right path. I have to make sure that while I’m here things are still okay.” said Sanders.
The 16.3 square miles that makes up the city of Greenwood provides few outlets for extracurricular activities aside from the sports programs provided by the secondary schools located there.
Abandoned and old buildings line the streets of Greenwood. Sanders noted that the civic center which includes open fields for recreation remain unused because of dissatisfaction with the condition of equipment and lack of support of the facility by the community.
“Some of the older guys hold workouts for the boys in town but that isn’t putting money in their pockets so they ain’t worried about it how they should be.” said Sanders.
Highschool junior Isiah Whatley is amongst one of the youth in Greenwood that considers Shyniece as a role model. He aspires to follow her lead in attending a university and pursuing sports during his high school career.
During her spring break Sanders took the initiative to take Whatley and two other Greenwood High School students on a college tour of Coastal Carolina University. Due to the long hours worked by the parents of the boys, she decided to lend a helping hand to the families’ of those she had mentored during her time at Greenwood High.
Two weeks after the visit one of the young men she took on the college tour was arrested and charged with multiple criminal charges including breach of peace and failure to stop for blue lights.
“He got a job at footlocker and was looking at coastal but I don’t know what happened in the meantime. While I was focusing on me I could have been helping him. I feel like my success isn’t even something to celebrate when things like this be happening if the people I care about are failing.” said Sanders.
At only 19 years old, Shyniece feels responsible for the futures of other children who are only a few years younger than her. The added responsibility serves as a motivation to excel but can also act as a performance inhibitor for Shyniece.
Anxiety is felt by her whenever she feels as though she has performed poorly academically. Sanders said, “I’m winning for me and everyone else which is both a blessing and a curse.”
Despite only being a sophomore, she has plans on implementing non-profit community outreach programs in the city after she acquires her degree and funding to support her vision for the youth of Greenwood.
In addition to her local impact, Sanders has involved herself with organizations which provide her with the opportunity and platform to make an international impact.
She began involving herself with an organization known as Engineers Without Boarders her freshman year and since then has had plans to travel extensively using her engineering expertise to make natural resources more available to impoverished countries abroad.
After working with Engineers Without Borders, she plans on opening non-profit community youth clubs starting with her small town.
Sanders explained that she finds issue with how within the black community, those who do not fit into stereotypical roles within the community are not as supported in their entrepreneurial interest.
She goes on record to say “I find major issue with the fact there is a place for black boys that want to sell drugs, there is a place for black girls that want to do hair, there is a place for black boys who want to smoke dope but God forbid that a little black boy want a telescope in the hood or a little black girl likes, I don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons or poetry or anything besides the bare minimum activities that requires little to no thought. And what’s worst is that is the expectation.”
Shyniece plans to raise the bar or expectations of these kids in hopes that this will inspire them to aim higher in their personal goal setting. “If I can make a safe, nerdy space for just one I know that I have done my part.” said Sanders.