The Benefits of Trail Blazing

The story of a first-generation college graduate

Monday, May 6, 2013

Assistant Professor of Marketing Janée N. Burkhalter, Ph.D., remembers Dominique Howard from her sophomore year in fall 2010.

Howard, who attended Central High School in Philadelphia, was a student in Burkhalter's Principles of Marketing class. "I was impressed by Dominique's humility, drive and commitment," she says. "She was one of the few sophomores I met who was already thinking about life after college."

Three years later, Howard will earn her bachelor's degree in accounting on May 11 from Saint Joseph's University. At the age of 21, she is the oldest of seven children, and the first in her family to graduate from college. "It was important to my parents that I attend college," says Howard. "Even more important to me personally, I wanted to set an example for my younger siblings."

Nationally, only 11 percent of first-generation students graduate. Experts say they are often challenged not only with classroom work, but with choosing the right courses and majors, choices that other students might be able to make with help from families who have lived the same experience.

Howard says she struggled during the first semester at Saint Joseph's as she juggled course work, a part-time job and extra curricular activities. "My priorities were a mess," she says. "I thought my job and making money were my number one focus, but faculty advisors helped me to realize I needed to prioritize academics if I wanted to succeed."

Where some students may have asked family members for advice, Howard turned to faculty on campus for support. Burkhalter formed a relationship with Howard during a pivotal year in her academic career.

"Sophomore year is when I really turned things around," she says. "I focused less on my job and more fully immersed myself at Saint Joseph's."

Howard managed new responsibilities that year — resident advisor on campus; member of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; volunteer with Project Appalachia; intern for PricewaterhouseCoopers. She brought her GPA up to a point where she earned a number of academic scholarships and awards including the appropriately named — Saint Joseph's Gender Studies Program Trailblazer Award.

However, this year was not without its challenges. In the fall, hardship at home distracted Howard and she felt compelled to contribute and care for her family. Fortunately, a strong support system on campus kept Howard on track.

During her junior year, after completing two internships with Big Five accounting firms, Howard received an offer for a full-time position with Deloitte at the age of 19. She will begin her career as an audit assistant, with aspirations of becoming a CPA, soon after graduation.

"I know I had to mess up first to get where I am today," says Howard. "Coming here, I couldn't have anticipated the good or the bad — the job offer, the scholarships, the travel opportunities. This has been an incredible experience; I feel incredibly blessed."

Media Contact

Carolyn Steigleman, Director of Communications, Haub School of Business, 610-660-1355,

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