First-Generation Celebration Day at SAIC

February 24 is First-Generation Celebration Day! On this day, and every day, we honor all School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) community members who identify as being the first members of their family to attend college.

Our individual experiences are vastly different, but share themes of aspiration, challenge, perseverance, and the presence of the ones who supported us as college applicants, students, alums, and ultimately as faculty and staff. Meet some of our own first-generation community members and learn how their college experiences have shaped who they are today.

A person with shoulder-length, dark brown hair and bangs stares at the camera with a smile one their face. They pose with their left arm resting on their knee in front of a brown wall. They are wearing a black t-shirt, ripped black jeans, and a silver necklace.

Image courtesy of Kylianne McGuire

Image courtesy of Kylianne McGuire

Kylianne McGuire (BFA 2024)

Kylianne McGuire (they/them) is a Filipino American visual artist and designer from southern California with a focus on visual communication and graphic design. Their practice is largely driven by their identity as a first-generation college student and person of color, with projects that often bring to attention the nature of their individual socioeconomic standing and other personal struggles through the use of lighthearted humor. A lot of their work aims to celebrate their identity and share their experiences with others. 

Why was attending college so important to you?

As a Filipino American whose family immigrated to the United States only two generations ago, it has been a very long road to get me to where I am today, to say the least. Attending college and having a fulfilling career doing what makes me happy is my way of thanking my family for supporting me up until this point to the best of their ability in spite of our disadvantageous socioeconomic situation. Most importantly, going to college and actually completing my degree is a recognition of my privilege of choice—a privilege that not everyone before me got to have. 

What made you want to attend college?

Personal and professional success is what everyone in my family has been ultimately pushing me toward. By no means have I ever thought or been forced to think that I had to go to college to be a successful person, but it was rather something that I had personally chosen for myself. To me, a college degree is the ultimate declaration of my own personal idea of success: it is a testament to my discipline as an academic, my drive to pursue something that I am truly passionate about, and my desire for personal growth as an artist and as a person. 

How have you felt supported by SAIC?

The lack of a real support system is something that goes hand in hand with the first-gen experience. Getting to college in the first place was a huge milestone, but the college struggle had only just begun and I very quickly realized that it required countless resources that are just not readily available for most first-gen students. SAIC, and especially the SAIC First-Gen Fellows Program, has done a truly phenomenal job at bridging that gap in my support system by giving me a network of mentors, resources, and programs to rely on for all of my professional, financial, and academic needs. Having these extra resources has allowed me to spend less time worrying about the stress and struggles of being first-gen and given me more time to continue to develop my artistic career and set myself up for success beyond SAIC.

A bald person stands in front of a white background and stares at the camera while holding a cat. They are wearing a denim jacket.

Image courtesy of Jade Yumang

Image courtesy of Jade Yumang

Jade Yumang, Assistant Professor

Jade Yumang examines how queer optics permeate into culture, how that is absorbed, embodied, repeated, and eventually materialized into deviating forms. Yumang received a master of fine arts at Parsons School of Design and a bachelor of fine arts at the University of British Columbia. They have shown in numerous national and international museums and galleries and are the recipient of several grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and British Columbia Arts Council.

Why was graduating college important to you?
My parents and I immigrated twice for political, economic, and health reasons. Going to college was a way for me to acknowledge all the sacrifices my parents made and be in a more stable position than they were. My first few years in college were about self-discovery and being honest about what I really wanted. My mother passed away suddenly when I was an undergraduate and from then on I promised her and myself to follow what makes me happy, which led to where I want to be. 

How did college help your career and creative practice? 
I was lucky enough to be supported and challenged (in the best way) by my professors and classmates when I was pursuing my degrees. It was a safe place for me to explore, experiment, and absorb different ideas. I took advantage of other opportunities in school: for example, attending many artist lectures, applying to on-campus gallery open calls, volunteering at a gallery, and working in the library. College was also a way of finding my community. The group of friends I hung out with after class cheered each other to succeed and were there for each other in times of need.

What advice would you give to current first-generation students?
This is a wonderful time for you to explore diverse perspectives while sharpening and amplifying your voice. Never be afraid to ask for what you need, recognize your successes, learn from failures, support your peers, and create a path for others. Take this time seriously and have as much fun as possible along the way.

A man wearing glasses stands in front of a hallway. He is wearing a gray button-up shirt.

Image courtesy of Trevor Martin

Image courtesy of Trevor Martin

Trevor Martin (MFA 1998), Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies

At SAIC, Trevor Martin is responsible for all curatorial engagements and administrative oversight for a program that annually supports the work of over 1,000 artists, designers, and scholars who include SAIC students, faculty, alums, and professionals from the field. He received his bachelor of arts from Transylvania University and his master of fine arts from SAIC. As a practicing artist, he has presented work in local, national, and international venues. He is also a senior lecturer at the School.

Why was graduating college important to you?
College allowed me to broaden my perspective and understanding of the world and how I can be a better citizen within it. It really changed my DNA as a person in tremendously positive ways.

How does college help your career and creative practice?
Pursuing both my undergraduate and graduate studies transformed my life. It exposed me to new ideas and ways of operating in the larger world. I also connected with other like-minded people who continue to influence me. I still regard them as some of my closest friends. This network of people is an amazing community of thinkers, artists, activists, and genuine human beings. I'm honored to know them.

What advice would you give to current first-generation college students?
Trust what you know and also trust not knowing—challenge yourself to continually ask questions and participate in complicated cultural and civic dialogues. We learn from each other, and we grow from being challenged and from willing to be vulnerable. Trust, also, your network of fellow students and faculty—they will continually be a resource for you. I would also say to listen to and trust your family and community who have not gone to college—they have incredible knowledge to share.

A woman smiles at the camera. She has dark brown shoulder-length hair and is wearing pink lipstick.

Image courtesy of Miriam Martinez

Image courtesy of Miriam Martinez

Miriam Martinez, Senior Accountant 

Miriam Martinez was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico and raised in southwest Chicago. She worked for nearly 15 years as an administrative assistant and has eight years of experience in the accounting field. She received her bachelor of science in business administration from Roosevelt University.

How did college help your career?
I wanted to get an education that my parents never had the opportunity or means to attain. As the oldest daughter, I wanted to make my mother proud of the dedication and sacrifice she made as a single mother raising three daughters on her own. I became assistant to the controller and treasurer after obtaining my associate's degree. I had the full support of my two bosses to return to college during my second year with them; during that time, SAIC had a tuition remission exchange program with Roosevelt University, which helped me finish my bachelor’s degree. Then, I landed my first accounting job as a staff accountant at the School.

What's something that's unique to the first-generation college experience?
To me, the most unique college experience was not knowing what college was all about because I come from a background where most of my family never even finished high school. I was the first in my family to experience college life. It was definitely a journey that I experienced on my own. I enrolled in college with the ultimate determination to graduate no matter how many years it would take me, and I graduated with a degree that represents personal transformation, resilience, and promise.

What advice would you give to current first-generation college students?
The advice I would give to current first-generation students is to make sure to educate themselves and learn what services or financial help is available for them to pay for college. Take advantage of mentoring programs. Also, talk with people you trust, such as family and friends, about what you are experiencing as you adjust to college and a new environment. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else because each student has their own goals. Trust your process and enjoy the journey.