Professor of Biology
Faculty Profile
Olin Science Center 208

I am grateful to the generous people at Lewis & Clark College who saw my potential and thought college was possible for me. Although I had good grades, my high school education in rural Oregon was not college preparation by a long shot. I quickly felt out of my depth at college and realized I did not know how to study or prioritize among all the things I was supposed to read, write and think about. I knew I had a strong work ethic because I had done things like mowing lawns and laboring in farm fields all day long, but my work ethic did not translate to my freshman writing seminar or intro chemistry class. I did not know how to work with others on academic work.

My senior high school class had a 40 percent dropout rate, only 9 percent of people went to college, and 18 percent went into the military. People did not care about books or ideas. The county I was from had the highest suicide rate and domestic violence in the state Oregon, we were second in teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, all patterns that were connected to the high unemployment of a dying timber industry, an extinct commercial fishery, and a recession in manufacturing. People had big problems where I was from.

Unlike a lot of my high school peers, I had a stable loving family with two parents, one of whom had a good job with medical insurance. My parents also grew up in rural areas and, although they had no college experience, they did prize learning and curiosity. We went to the public library and were encouraged to read everything. We grew a lot of our own food, we gleaned fruit from commercial farms, we picked wild berries in the woods, and went fishing and clamming - and shared our harvest with others. I knew a lot about being outdoors and I was good at wondering about things. I was keen to contribute to my family and my community’s well being and I am still very fond and loyal to my hometown of Scappoose. I arrived at Lewis & Clark College, a college very much like Willamette, hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon who could pin broken legs and generally help people in the manner I understood from watching TV shows about doctors. I also had a notion that I would make enough money that I could travel the world and go see lots of the amazing animals I loved from National Geographic magazine and PBS TV specials. During college, I recognized my passion for birds and my whole career trajectory shifted. So what does loving birds have to do with being first generation? Drop me a line and I can tell you the answer.

If you’re first generation like I am, I’d welcome the chance to talk and listen to your experiences getting to Willamette. I am also interested in knowing how things are going. Being first-gen comes with its own special set of ups and downs and you’ll probably have more ups and downs than your peers with relatives who have already been to college.

We can talk about anything, but here are a five prompts to get us started:

  1. Tell me about a time you felt like you were straddling two different worlds — one world back home with your working class friends and family who actually do things and the one here full of students and professors talking and talking about ideas.
  2. Have you had the limbo experience yet? Limbo is the moment you realize you no longer can neatly fit back into the place you came from, but also may never become truly comfortable in the world of the college-educated.
  3. Are you happy about the increasingly wide array of work/life options you have, but also starting to worry about losing touch with your home community?
  4. Are you sometimes incredibly uncomfortable with networking and does it feel fake and dishonest to be pursuing people just to get to know them?
  5. Have you heard students talking about spring break party trips, research internships, and international study abroad experiences who have no idea about the everyday realities of blue-collar life?
Headshot of David Craig

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