First-Gen Longhorns

Michelle Shanks headshot, smiling, white backdrop.

Meet Michelle Shanks, M.Ed.

February 28, 2024,

Mrs. Shanks is the assistant director of the Center for Leadership and Learning and oversees First-Gen Longhorns. She reflects on her experiences as first-generation student and University of Texas at Austin staff member.

What is your first-gen super power? 
My first-gen superpower is emotional intelligence. My ability to see people and students for who they are and what they are going through provides me with the knowledge and capacity to develop adequate support systems and programming for them. 

How has being first-gen followed you after graduating from college? 
As a proud First-Gen Longhorn, I shared with my high school students the importance of asking for help when applying for college and offered myself as a resource for anyone who lacked knowledge or support when applying. Helping my first-gen students and watching their academic trajectories (or stopouts) influenced my decision to study first-generation college student supports in graduate school and led to my choice to support First-Gen Longhorns for my career. Each day, I combine both institutional and national research while leveraging my own first-gen experience to inform my work developing support systems for UT’s first-gen community. 

What advice would you give current First-Gen Longhorns? 
A mentor of mine always said that I should “never suffer in silence.” Many first-gen students have grown accustomed to figuring everything out by themselves throughout their pre-college journey, which is a behavior that often follows them into college. My advice to students is that they should always reach out for help when they need it and they should continue asking for help until they get it! 

First Gen Stories