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Tashko’s Education Journey Opens Up Her World

Friday, September 30, 2022

First-generation students are those whose parents don’t have a college degree. Oftentimes, these students are also the first ones in their families to ever set foot on campus as a student. Nationwide, one-third of all college students in the U.S. are first-generation students.

As classes get underway this fall, St. Louis Community College is spotlighting four first-generation students. And while every story is unique, students in this series continue to prove that they have what it takes to overcome obstacles and earn their college degree.

The third story is below; a new story will publish next week.

Irini Tashko

Many people define their education as a journey. But for Irini Tashko, that description couldn’t be more fitting.

Born in Greece, Tashko admits she was not a good student when she was younger. But now she takes her education much more seriously and is less than a year away from graduating with her degree in general transfer studies and ready to take the next steps on her education excursion.

Tashko moved to the United States in 2015 at the age of 23. Then, knowing she wanted to attend college, she learned that she first needed to receive her HiSET degree. She attended classes at STLCC-Forest Park to complete that step, and then moved her studies to the Meramec campus.

“I love it — with all my heart, I love it,” she said about her time at STLCC. “I’m coming from a culture which has great schools in Greece, but unfortunately the professors do not understand the needs of students there.”

She added that at STLCC she has numerous resources to support her as a student — especially with English not being her first language. Although she said she’d never really thought about it specifically, Tashko is a first-generation student.

“It has just been a part of my life,” she said. “The first to accomplish something and make my family proud. I do it for them first — then after that for myself.”

Her parents are unquestionably proud of her, she said. And both parents always pushed Tashko and her brother to be good at school, thinking a degree would earn respect from society and garner them more independence as they grew older.

“Of course, they do not understand the difficulties of getting a degree because they never got one,” she said. “So, they don’t know how fast it is. They are very proud, but at the same time, they don’t understand the process.”

This is something many first-generation students find out. Which is where TRIO steps in — to help those who are first-generation students, students with documented disabilities and/or students who are eligible for the Pell Grant. TRIO adds an additional layer of support to these students to help them flourish in college.

“I had no idea about TRIO,” Tashko said, admitting she found her way to the TRIO office simply by accident. “It may sound cliché, but it is a family. It feels safe, they help a lot one-on-one with students and they go out of their way to help you. It’s a safe place — I feel very lucky to be here.”

With the help of TRIO, as well as the Access office, Tashko is succeeding as a student. After graduating in May, she plans to transfer to a four-year university to study psychology.

“But even if I don’t get my degree in psychology, I’m learning things, and I’m more open-minded,” she said. “Let’s be honest, you need to want to do something to be successful.

“I truly believe in education. I love it! I feel it changes people — knowledge and learning about others.”

As Tashko keeps taking more steps in her education journey, her advice to other potential first-generation students is to not take anything for granted and to look into things for yourself.

“I feel it’s not easy to be a first-generation student,” she said. “When your parents have an education, they can help you. I had to do it myself. Do your own research, ask questions and that will guide you.”

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