Susan Ferency is a lifelong resident of the Fairfield/Bridgeport area. She attended Sacred Heart University (SHU), attaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology. Upon graduation, she earned two certifications from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and began her 27-year clinical laboratory career at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Bridgeport, CT as a Medical Technologist in the Clinical Laboratory. In 2004, she was promoted to management, overseeing the Clinical Chemistry, Phlebotomy and Point-of-Care Testing divisions of the Clinical Lab. She applied for graduate school and attained her Master of Science degree from Quinnipiac University. In the early 1990’s, Prof. Ferency began her career in academia at Housatonic Community College. In 2013, she joined the faculty of the University of Bridgeport as an adjunct instructor in the Medical Laboratory Science program and joined the UB faculty full-time in August 2015. Prof. Ferency teaches courses in both Health Sciences and Medical Laboratory Sciences.
UB: What was your experience like as a first-gen student?
Susan Ferency: When I was an undergraduate student in the 1980’s, there was very little guidance provided to students in high school or once they started college. I had to figure everything out on my own and I made some mistakes. Initially, I was a business major because this was a major supported by my parents who understood that with a degree in business, I could make a living and help support the family. After completing my freshman year, I realized that I had no interest in business courses. I was motivated by my part-time job in a physician’s office to pursue an education in healthcare. I knew that I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I didn’t really know what other options I had available to me. I was so excited to find a description of the Medical Technology major at SHU in their catalogue which exactly matched some of the work I did in the doctor’s office, which was a job I absolutely loved. I met with the Program Director and changed my major, without telling my parents. Luckily for me, my parents trusted my judgment that majoring in Med Tech was a better career choice for me.
UB: What supports did you have in place to help you?
SF: There wasn’t much support at home or in college. Although my parents knew the value of a college education, they didn’t know how to help me. I only took the SATs one time and there wasn’t any real prep before I took the test. We didn’t have or at least didn’t know about preparatory courses that would ensure that I scored well on the exam. There was very limited financial aid, especially since my parents owned our home. Back then, there was nowhere near the plethora of scholarships that are available for today’s college students. There wasn’t any mentoring about the careers that are available to you after you get your degree. One of the best parts of my advising is talking to my students about all of the possibilities for employment that are available to them once they get their degree in MLS.
UB: What were some of your struggles and how did you handle this?
SF: Without a doubt, my most difficult course was Organic Chemistry. I ended up withdrawing from the class the first time I took it because I was failing. I took it the next semester with a different instructor and did really well in the class. I knew that there wasn’t anything else I could do personally to improve my grade in the class. I was studying as hard as I could but not succeeding. Taking the class over with another professor was the best thing I did. I still remember all these years later the sense of having a tremendous burden lifted from me the day I withdrew.
It took me 6 years to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree. First, I lost the first two semesters by changing majors. Since the majority of the classes in those Freshman semesters were business courses, they were now electives since I changed my major. I also ended up going to school part-time so I could work full-time because my father became very ill and he could no longer work. My parents were much older when I was born and they worked in low paying jobs in retail. It wasn’t possible for my mother’s income to fully support our family. I was very fortunate that the doctor I worked for paid me very generously, and moving into full-time hours in his office allowed our family to survive financially. One of my regrets is that, as a commuter student, I was not active in campus life. I went to campus to take my classes and then left to go to my job that was close by. I was very focused on getting my degree and moving into a high paying job in a hospital. Now, I wish I had spent some time enjoying the social aspects of college.
UB: Any advice for first-generation students?
SF: First, believe in yourself. Know that you can reach your educational and career goals and there are many people at UB that will be working to help you succeed.
I would also advise first-generation students to explore their options in the majors offered at UB. There are so many majors that you may not even be aware of. Attend the majors fair when it’s offered. Check out other programs, talk to students in other majors and contact program faculty to ask questions because we love sharing information with prospective students.
Be willing to accept that you might need a do-over once in a while, whether it is a change in major or retaking a class. Please communicate with your professors and your advisor as soon as you have a question or a challenge. We want to help you and we are not at all scary!
Never stop learning. The most successful people are life-long learners.
Finally, enjoy your college experience and participate in student events just for fun!
I want to close by saying congratulations to our students. You are in college and you are on your way to a fulfilling career.