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First Generation Vision Science Students and Faculty

Six first-generation students and faculty, text reads: "in celebration of first generation VS students and faculty."

We continue to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate the accomplishments of first generation students and faculty in the Vision Science community for their academic, leadership, and professional endeavors. Read about their stories below.

Martin Banks, PhD
Professor of Optometry & Vision Science

“I am a first generation college student. My parents, A. Ray Banks and Judith E. Banks, both attended college briefly. Less than 1 year each. Then they had to return home. My dad got a job to help support his family and then went to WW2. My mom helped out around the house because her older brother had gone off to WW2 and her younger brothers were hard to take care of. So I am the first in my family to get a college degree. One of my mom’s younger brothers got a Bachelor’s degree and a PhD and was a professor of physics at Utah State University for 53 years. The older one died in the war. The other younger one died in a car accident at age 21. Neither went to college. My dad’s only sibling lived to a fairly old age but also never went to college. “
John G. Flanagan, PhD, DSc, FCOptom, FAAO
Dean and Professor, School of Optometry
“I am a proud first generation student. I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents who were always supportive and always created an atmosphere within which my success was feasible and normal, even though neither of them had the opportunity of enjoying higher education. I was also their only child to attend University, with neither of my siblings choosing to follow a university education. Being a first gen student likely gave me added determination to earn my degrees. As an undergraduate I never imagined being a graduate student, but when the opportunity arose I never looked back or questioned the opportunity. I sincerely hope that my experiences help me be empathetic to the students I teach, and the influence I have in my position as a Dean. I have been very lucky in my education and in my career. To me, being first generation made the entire journey one of pleasure, excitement and wonder. There was never pressure or expectation, which I often see as a burden for students.”
Suzanne Fleiszig, OD, PhD, FAAO
Professor of Optometry & Vision Science
“I am first generation. Here’s my immediate family’s education level:
Mother – High school graduate
Father – Educated to age 14 (when war broke out)
My one brother – Left school at age 15 (completed sophomore level high school)
My father never spoke to me about my future, but my mother suggested I become a school teacher so that I could work part time while raising a family. Strangely, the lack of expectations turned out to be helpful. It allowed me to follow my passions without any pressure, and freed me to genuinely savor every single accomplishment as my career unfolded.”
Orneika Flandrin
PhD Candidate
“Being a first-generation student means being able to veer from the path already laid out for you by societal impediments and taking the risk to create your own. It means always leading by example and defying all odds. I grew up in a single parent household in Jamaica; however, there were nine family members living together. My mother could not secure employment because she did not finish her education as a result of having me in high school. My life experiences fueled my desire for pursuing a higher education, despite the financial struggles. My mom and other family members have been my biggest inspiration and support throughout undergrad, and now as a PhD student- a first in the family.”
Victoria Fong, MA
PhD Candidate
“I have an overwhelming sense of pride to be the first in my family to complete a college degree, a Masters degree, and now to be on my PhD journey. My mother worked long hours to single-handedly ensure my brother and I had the educational opportunities she didn’t have growing up in China. Navigating to where I am now as a PhD student at one of the Top 5 worldwide research universities was not an easy journey. I am here because of my passion in translational medicine, my drive to mentor and support those that have similar journeys to STEM, and to achieve my American dream.”
Angelica Godinez, MS
PhD Candidate
“Being a first gen for me means paving the way and broadening possible opportunities for the generations to come. My inspiration for educational attainment are my parents who worked labor-intensive jobs (sometimes multiple) to provide for my siblings and I with a better future. My experience as a first gen has made me resilient and solidified the idea that I can indeed do anything I want. I already feel immensely successful and look forward to what’s next after the PhD. It takes grit to be a first gen in a PhD program.”