Amber VanDerwarker

What advice would you give first-generation college students?

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions.  Seek out professors for internships. Check out the McNair Scholars Program.  Don’t wait for things to happen for you – make them happen!

What are some things you didn't know when you were in college?

I did not know that archaeology was part of anthropology!  And a bunch of other things.  Take courses in a lot of different disciplines.  Sometimes what we think we want to do for the rest of our lives changes dramatically once we really see what the possibilities are for the future.  We cannot know these possibilities if we don’t take a wide range of courses.

What specific challenges do you think first-generation college students face?

They don’t know the system as well as others.  Other students have parents that know how to advocate for them and advise them.  FGS must figure this out on their own.  But this is a benefit, because FGS will learn to be more independent and as a result, will become more self-reliant.

Where did you go to high school and how did you come to go to college?

I went to high school in Newport News VA.  My mother was a single parent, and she did not want her daughters to end up reliant on a man who can just leave her without resources or help.  She expected that we would go, and we never questioned it.  And now she has two daughters who can make it on their own in the world if need be.

What didn't you know when you went to college?

I didn’t know A LOT.  But mostly, I did not know about knowledge production, just dissemination.  Understanding how scholars produce new knowledge is critical to being able to judge all the information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

What advice would you give the parents of first-generation college students?

I worked 30 hours/week while in undergrad.  I wish I had been able to take the time to do more internships and extra-curricular activities.  Encourage your kids to take advantage of work study, so they can try and work on campus, and encourage them to do some internships on professors’ projects.  Hands-on work is essential for really knowing if you want to do something forever.

Was there a specific mentor who helped you navigate college or gave you advice that has stuck with you?

My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Patricia Gilman, identified the good work I was doing in courses, and called me into her office to discuss various opportunities, which resulted in lots of excavation and lab experiences, independent research, senior thesis, etc.  Without her, I may not be where I am today

Amber VanDerwarker
Professor, Anthropology
UC Santa Barbara