Collage of portraits of first generation students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

I am First-Generation: Andrea Woody

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In the College of Arts & Sciences, we are proud to celebrate our first-generation community through a collection of stories! We honor our students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and their many contributions to our university community and beyond. 

Picture of Andrea Woody

Andrea Woody

Divisional Dean of the Social Sciences
Professor of Philosophy 
Adjunct faculty in the Department of Dance; History; and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies

I had a series of teachers in high school who talked with me about college and the possibilities it offered. They gave me permission to dream, and I started college full of enthusiasm. My experience, though, especially in the first year, included lots of fear, especially of failure. I worried about the money my family was spending on me. My two roommates, both from elite private school backgrounds, were comfortable talking in class, and one was such a beautiful writer that I was hugely intimidated. I was never sure I was handling assignments the right way. But I never asked questions.

Andrea Woody as a student.
Throwback photo of Andrea Woody from when she was a student at Princeton University.

In my own teaching, because of my experience, I try to give very explicit instructions for assignments, including examples of successful work, so that everyone knows what they are being asked to do. I also try to return graded work as soon as possible, because I know the anxiety of waiting for feedback when you’re not sure you did an assignment correctly. Implicit standards are a huge burden for first gen students.

I believe that education is the greatest social tool for liberation that we have. It allows you to discover both who you can be and who you want to be. It helps you achieve goals and have impact in your communities. It’s the bedrock of good decision-making. That’s why I’ll never leave college. 

"You belong here. This place will change you and you will change it. I belong here, too, and I am forever grateful for the ways I’ve been changed by the students, staff, and faculty in my part of the UW community."

Advice to students: 

•    Learning is a communal experience. Talk, talk, talk to your classmates. Go to office hours. Ask questions. It gets easier the more you do it–I promise! Your experiences and thoughts are valuable; sharing them will help you understand that you are part of a community.

•    Don’t try to pre-plan your life! Try many things. Explore. Let your experiences reveal the path forward. [I had no idea I could/would be a college professor when I started as an undergraduate.

You belong here. This place will change you and you will change it. I belong here, too, and I am forever grateful for the ways I’ve been changed by the students, staff, and faculty in my part of the UW community. 

Andrea Woody at graduation.
Throwback photo of Andrea Wood, Divisional Dean of the Social Sciences, during graduation at Princeton University.

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