For Batten Student Jackie Chen (BA ’21), First-Gen is Just One Aspect of Who She Is

Jackie Chen

A native of Burke, VA, Jackie Chen (BA ’21) is pursuing her bachelor’s in leadership and public policy and global public health. Her policy areas of interest include health policy, healthcare, and hospital administration. Prior to joining the Batten Community, she interned at the Navy at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where she had the opportunity to conduct research on global epidemiology, with a particular focus on infectious diseases. Outside of the classroom, she serves as a program director in Madison House’s Medical Services Program. An active member of the Student Advisory Board for the Center for Global Health, Chen also works as a teaching assistant for a graduate nursing class, Overview of U.S Health Care. In her free time, she likes to cook and explore new food establishments with friends as well as play board games and assemble jigsaw puzzles.

Q. What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

A. Being first-generation is simply another aspect of who I am. There is nothing to hide or to be ashamed of. Instead of being defined by a label, I continue to strive to break out of this mold and seek opportunities to better myself. I wear many hats: I am a sister, a daughter, a friend, and being a first-generation student is just one of them.

Q. How do you think being a first-generation student has shaped your UVA experience? Did it play a role in your decision to study policy and leadership?

A. I think being first-generation has not heavily impacted my UVA experience thus far. I do my best not to think that I should be burdened by this label, but I came into UVA wanting to explore what the school had to offer. I was open to trying new things, such as taking different classes and joining various CIOs. Through one of these student groups, I was introduced to the Batten School by an upperclassman friend and was highly encouraged to join the community. The curriculum of complex analysis and problem solving caught my attention because I want to create a positive social impact on my community in the future.

Q. What challenges do first-generation students face?  How do you meet those challenges?

A. From my own perspective, I think first-generation students tend to feel disadvantaged or believe that they don’t fit the typical “college student” mold. In a way, we are navigating college blindly, since we may not typically seek help all the time. On the same note, first-generation students may also grow hesitant to take risks because there are so many uncertainties that they are unaware of. It is not easy to overcome these challenges, but believing in yourself and seeking support within the community are only some of the ways to meet and surpass these obstacles.

Q. Are there special skills or strengths you possess by virtue of being a first-gen student?

A. I believe having the ability to be independent and proactive are both characteristics that I have been able to develop and hone over time. I strongly believe in charting your own journey because you are the one who paves your own path. Nothing comes easy to anyone, so take risks and see every obstacle as another opportunity to grow!

Q. If you could share one piece of advice with other first-gen students, what would it be?

A. Don’t be afraid! It is very important to have the mindset that you are not confined to a “label.” You have already come this far in life, so do not give up! Lean on those around you for support and remember that you are never alone! You are an overcomer!