Sharing My First-Generation Story: Craig Downs

Craig Downs (BFA 1995), Executive Director of Media and Instructional Resources
Craig Downs grew up in Pullman on Chicago’s South Side. As a student at SAIC, he gained a love of community media. After working at CAN TV, a public, educational, and government access cable television service in Chicago, for three years and doing a variety of freelance video work with nonprofits, he returned to SAIC in 1997 to manage the Media Center. Today, Downs serves as executive director of Media and Instructional Resources.

Read on to learn about his experience as a first-generation college graduate, and show your support on First-Generation Celebration Day, Wednesday, November 20.

How did college help your career?
In the 90s, SAIC's video department was run by Marxists. They really instilled in me a love of using media to do more than entertain people in the most trivial matters. I found out that I really wanted to help people who struggled to be heard gain access to the tools of production and distribution. I volunteered with a couple of local nonprofits while in school, leading to a job with one, which then gave me better experience to be qualified for a good management job at SAIC when the time was right.

What advice would you give to current first-generation college students?
Pay attention to all the experiences you're gaining at school. They'll all mean something later. I am at a point in my career where everything I've ever done contributes to my ability to do what I do now. Some experiences didn't seem to make sense at the time, but it all comes back. Say yes whenever you can to friends who ask you to help make work. The relationships you make are as important as the experiences you gain.

What’s something that's unique to the first-generation college experience?
You don't come from a background where your whole family can advise you on college life and how to do it, so you're really free to experience it fresh for yourself. Although you may feel the responsibility of the whole family not to screw it up, you don't have the burden of going through all the same motions as some of your family who have a history of their own in college. You get to discover it for yourself and do it your way.