What’s it like being the first in your family to attend college? Just ask Andi La, ’23.
“It didn’t go exactly according to plan,” La said, laughing while remembering the college selection process, “and that’s OK, because everything worked out in the end.”
La had only a basic understanding of the college application process. She didn’t know what her major would be or at which university she would end up. A first-generation American born to Vietnamese immigrants, she didn’t have anyone at home with first-hand experience to fall back on, either.
Her senior year of high school was winding to a close and, in her mind, La had decided upon a college that she said didn’t feel like home. Then, she toured La Salle University.
“I visited La Salle on college signing day, I bought a shirt from the school store, and I committed to La Salle that same day,” said La, of Willow Grove, Pa. “I felt like I was late in the process, but it all just came together.”
Fast-forward nearly three years, and La is as involved in student activity and ingrained in the campus culture as anyone at La Salle. She’s enrolled in the La Salle Honors Program, working toward undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics. She tutors fellow students through La Salle’s Center for Academic Achievement. She is an engagement leader, connecting with University alumni through the Ambassadors Program. And just last summer, she served as a Senior Explorientation leader for the University’s new-student orientation program.
“Andi is a true Explorer,” said Br. Michael J. McGinniss, FSC, who directs the Honors Program. “She owns her university and wants to share with others who, like her, possess enthusiasm and grit. … Andi fits right in with the generations of La Salle alumni who have preceded her.”
La credits Br. Mike with helping motivate her through what she calls “my first-year crisis.” She questioned whether college was the right path for her. She wondered if she would be able to keep pace with her classmates.
It was the Honors Triple, a staple of La Salle’s Honors Program, that simultaneously created doubt and instilled in La a sense of belonging. The Triple brings together first-year Honors students in a year-long cohort for three courses—in philosophy, history, and literature. The students inevitably form bonds as they study together and push one another to excel in ways they never thought possible.
“We had late-night study sessions, labs, and all of these other opportunities to come together in support of one another,” La said. “The Triple brings us to plays and orchestral and opera performances in the city, too. It’s an eye-opener to what else exists in the world and how you fit into it.”
“I’m a problem-solver and a people person. So if I can be a positive influence on others, and help them on their path to college, I will absolutely do it.”
—Andi La, ’23, on supporting fellow first-generation students
That sense of community extends to La’s work on campus, whether supporting classmates as a writing tutor or new students about to begin their personal college experiences. That’s how Jennifer Ruggiero-Patel first interacted with La. Ruggiero-Patel, La Salle’s assistant director of new student programs and orientation, said La advocated for additional programs this fall specifically designed for first- and second-year students.
“As a first-generation student, she had her peers in mind to make sure they were adjusted to campus especially with COVID-19 restrictions,” Ruggiero-Patel said. “This year, we offered multiple campus tours for our students to choose from during Welcome Week and had more visibility to showcase student involvement at events. Andi told me that she has a younger sister that she tries her best to be a good role model for. I’m inspired by this. I think it is great, as the first in her family to go to college, that she is hopefully paving the way for future success for her sister, as well as other family members.”
“I’m a problem-solver and a people person,” La said. “So if I can be a positive influence on others, and help them on their path to college, I will absolutely do it.”
—Christopher A. Vito