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First-gen student Brittney French leans on peers, mentors to navigate college life

As a first-generation college student from tiny Carrollton, Missouri, Brittney French has spent time during her first year at Drury University separating myth from reality.

Take those “intro” classes, example. Incoming college students are often conditioned to dread these courses before they ever set foot on campus. But that hasn’t been French’s experience in her FUSE 101 and 102 classes taught by English professor Dr. Peter Meidlinger and religion professor Dr. Peter Browning. These courses, each designed around several unique themes for students to choose from, are part of the Your Drury Fusion curriculum that helps students blend passion and profession while in college. 

Far from a throw-away course, French found her FUSE 101 class to be a challenge right off the bat; one that helped this aspiring accounting major hone her writing skills.

“I’m a business major – numbers are all I can see,” she says. “Letters and words and sentences … I’m like, ‘Whew, what is going on?’ So, the FUSE classes have helped me become a more developed writer. I can definitely tell compared to my high school writing. My papers here have excelled, greatly.”

That’s in large part because of French’s own motivation and desire to improve. She wasn’t happy with the grades on her initial papers. So, she simply asked: What do I do?

“Don’t make an exception for me,” she recalls saying to her professors. “Just teach me how to go forward so I don’t get this grade next time.” 

But just asking those kinds of questions can take guts for a first-gen student. 

“I am the first person in my household to go to college, so my mom didn’t know which way to direct me when I was freaking out because I didn’t know how to handle my first test score,” she says. 

That’s when French encountered one of the realities about Drury: the ways in which people genuinely lift each other up.

“I asked my roommate for help,” she says. “I asked my sorority for help. I’ve been looking to upperclassmen a lot, like, ‘How do I handle this?’”

Everywhere she looked, French found somebody willing to help. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s found crucial guidance from her advisor, accounting professor Dr. Tiffany Cossey. Despite the myth that professors have rigid office house and little time for students, Cossey has already spent many hours one-on-one with her during her first year.

“I appreciate her so much,” French says. 

Cossey helped French chart her Drury Fusion path in a way that will help her combine numbers and the law into her dream job: forensic accounting. A self-described “rule follower,” she wants to someday work for the FBI. She’s likely to minor in criminal justice and is looking at two of a growing list of Drury Fusion certificates in order to complete her degree program: Data Analytics or Wrongful Convictions. 

“I have this fascination with making everything correct,” she says. “I want to catch the people who are trying to cheat the system and make it right.”

In the meantime, she’s getting further involved in her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and just making a lot of friends. And there’s another myth busted. She thought her campus tour guides were “bluffing” when they touted the close-knit nature of the place.

“The community sense I thought they were joking about was so real,” she says, noting the number of people she finds herself waving to while walking campus between classes. “That’s just what I was looking for in college, so I was happy to see it actually played out the way I wanted it to.”

Story by Mike Brothers, executive director of university relations.

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