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Notebook and Pencil

What No One Tells You about Being the First Professor in Your Family

When I travel to my relatives’ homes Alabama, it’s as if I have gone underground. Depending on where I am, I cannot use my telephone or obtain wireless access. Although I have hotspot capabilities on my cell phone, the phone won’t work if I have no signal. Forget about using a Nook app, watching a movie on Netflix, or connecting to a Virtual Private Network at my university. If what I need isn’t available in the house and communities where I am at that moment, I’m in trouble. Panera and Starbucks become my best friend, because I have to strategically find free wi-fi in nearby cities to connect to people in the outside world.

bog photo rural area

As an Associate Professor, it’s difficult to explain how I can go from working 12 hours a day in my home environment to checking in for maybe an hour on a given day when I am out of town in remote areas. Many of my minority professor friends mention that when they leave their home offices and situations, they are limited by the resources available to them among family members. In addition, since my family and in-laws don’t live in major cities, traveling to these cities requires either driving 11-13 hours one way or paying up to $1000 per ticket so that my husband and I can fly directly into cities closest to where our families live.

My point is not to complain about the lack of resources available at the homes of my family members but to inform the world of another type of diversity- one where people who grew up in rural areas or are the first to enter a field that requires advanced resources are expected to work at high levels of proficiency all the time. To maintain their jobs, they have to “be on” and not use their families’ environments as excuses, especially in jobs where they may already be marginalized.

These professionals often live in two worlds- one where they are “on call” and responsive to everyone’s needs and another where they must adjust to the stark realities of environments where technology is not the top priority. These cultural gaps need to be addressed in higher education, especially if we want to attract more students and faculty to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). (As far as I know), it’s not acceptable to say that you miss details, e-mails, or meetings because you are in a location that doesn’t have the resources that you need to complete your assignments.

As I sit in Panera writing this and wondering if I’m going to have to eat 3 bagels in exchange for the access to resources that I am using, I encourage higher education professionals to consider the fact that many people are experiencing situations behind the scenes that may seem minor but are very real in the United States. It’s time to support professionals in new ways so that they don’t have to choose between being a model professional or a great family member.


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