John Latto

What advice would you give first-generation college students?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your TA’s and instructors can help you with much more than just the course material. Ask them about their experiences in college or ask them about their study habits and tips. Similarly your College advisors can help you with much more than just picking a major and getting out of academic trouble. They can, for example, help you arrange a schedule so you can study abroad and if they can’t answer your question themselves they can certainly direct you to someone who can.

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

That would be a long list! I really had no idea how the whole academic system worked. The first time I encountered a TA I had no idea what a PhD was, or what grad students were doing. It was their patience, on a long fieldtrip, explaining the whole process that led me to get involved in research as an undergraduate and, ultimately, end up in academia for a career.

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

I think the big challenge is to be willing to ask for help. In new situations it is natural to want to keep your head down and not draw attention to your perceived ignorance. But if you do that in College you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities. Over 40% of UCSB students are first generation so if you need some incentive to speak up then remember that you are probably asking a question someone else is wondering about.

What did you think you would be doing for a career? Are you surprised where you ended up?

I think I imagined a career as what I now know is called an environmental consultant.  I didn’t really know that careers in academia existed. I’m not sure where I thought Professors came from. Perhaps I thought they were hereditary titles! The fact that I ended up in a teaching career would have been hugely surprising to me as I am uncomfortable in large groups and was quite incapable of public speaking when I was in College.

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

Let your child know that you support them and want them to be happy and successful. A great many students feel some degree of parental pressure when considering their choice of major. This often leads them to persist longer in a major that is not working out for them and can jeopardize their chances of graduating at all.

John Latto
Associate Dean, College of Letters & Science
Lecturer, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology
UC Santa Barbara