Richard Reddick is an associate professor and coordinator for the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the College of Education, and the assistant director of the Plan II Honors Program in the College of Liberal Arts. His profile is part of a series highlighting UT Austin’s faculty members who were first-generation college students in celebration of national First-Generation College Celebration Day.
Who or what inspired you to go to college?
Although I’m a first-generation college student, I come from a family that greatly values education. Both of my parents had high expectations for my academic work and my grandfather worked for Encyclopedia Brittanica, so we always had a wealth of books around our house. When I got to high school, I had peers and teachers who were very focused on college and plans after high school. I would give them a lot of the credit for inspiring me to apply for college and compete for scholarships. A special mention should go to my English teacher, Carol Hovland, who encouraged me to apply to the Plan II Honors Program. I had no idea what Plan II was, and every so often I marvel that I’m now the assistant director of the program.
What was it like for you in college as a first-generation student?
At some points it was extremely challenging. I didn’t know how to adjust to the environment. There were so many things happening—tons of free time, activities, meetings, organizations, and I think like most first-year students I spent too much time doing unnecessary things and not enough time doing things like studying, and planning my week. But it was also very exciting. I didn’t see being first-generation as a deficit; in fact, I thought it just meant that I was undertaking this great unexplored challenge. I appreciated the adventure of it.
Did you have a mentor while you were in college? If so, how did he or she help guide and inspire you?
I had a lot of mentors in college. But the most enduring was Brenda Burt. When I was a student, she directed the Welcome Program for African American and Latino students. This was one of the first places I felt a sense of belonging as a student here at UT Austin, and in my second year I became a staff member and leader in the program. I remained with the welcome program, and other Dean of Students positions around orientation and the first-year experience for my entire college experience.
I was also an RA in Dobie, an off-campus residence hall, and my hall director, Alan Schalscha, hired me and helped me develop in that role. In an amazing coincidence, Alan is now a doctor with Dell Medical, and we actually worked in the same building (Sanchez) until last summer. I always say I wouldn’t have had the professional and academic journey without the opportunity Alan provided for me.
What advice do you have for current first-generation students at UT Austin?
Be entrepreneurial. All the resources to do virtually anything you can imagine, are on this campus, or right around it. I also remind students to look for mentors and role models all around you—they don’t always look like you, or come from a similar background, but there are so many people here who are willing to help. You also need to have a belief that you can be successful. To get to UT Austin as a first generation college student means you are resourceful, hardworking, and determined. These are precisely the skills you need to excel as a student and as a leader. Last, the lessons you are learning are going to resonate for years after UT. People often say that there’s college, and there’s the real world. UT Austin is the real world. You will learn lessons about accountability, responsibility, and empathy that will have an impact well beyond your years on the Forty Acres.
Any other advice?
There is so much opportunity at UT Austin, so take advantage of it. Go to that meeting, take that class, travel to that country—don’t assume that barriers can’t be broken. Let people know when you need help—there are resources here to support you, and many times it’s just a matter of letting someone know you need assistance.
Last, know that you belong here. We all feel like a number and that we’re part of a big bureaucratic institution, but over time, this place becomes like a village and a small town. Stick with it, and make sure you take care of your mind and body as you take on this amazing opportunity that is a UT education!