First-generation and independent student finds community and support system at UMassD
Adriana Lebreault comes from humble beginnings. Her father was deported when she was 13, making her an orphan to the state. Without the guidance of parents, attending college as a first-generation student is especially daunting. Additional setbacks including a car accident, falling into academic probation, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of her college experience compounded to complicate her college journey.
But tough times make tough people, and with the help of campus resources like the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement and the Frederick Douglass Unity House, and the communities she built for herself, Lebreault has mastered overcoming adversity and discovered her life mission: helping her community achieve generational wealth.
Describe UMassD in one word
Why did you choose UMassD?
"I got into some elite private schools, but it's really difficult for independent students in America to get a loan for college, making them impossible to afford. UMass Dartmouth came through for me, offering free tuition through scholarships and financial aid. That made the decision easy."
How did you decide on your major?
"When he was here, my father was always working, sometimes three jobs at a time. He was a personal trainer, mechanic, and sold cars. He was a businessman, and I always admired him for that. I wanted to study business because I inherited the charisma and people skills that he used to survive in America.
"I was particularly interested in business management due to the fact that I had taken on a lot of leadership roles in high school and considered myself successful at it. Being able to run an event and delegate and decipher the talents of those around me to the tasks they can be used for was a challenge that I was always excited to complete."
Emulating her father's work ethic, Lebreault got involved in as much as she could at UMassD. On-campus, her résumé includes working as a community service ambassador for clubs and organizations, an orientation leader, vice president of the Society of Community Leaders, civic leader for the Leduc Center, Student Government Association (SGA) senator, SGA chair for civic engagement, treasurer of the Pan African Dance Group, creative director of the Caribbean Student Association, vote captain of UMassD Votes, chair of decorations for UnityFest, and as a member of the Cape Verdean Student Association (CVSA), the Student Advisory Board, and the United Latino Society (ULS).
Off campus, she spent the past five years interning at Principal Financial, where she started as a private staffer, progressing to become an office manager, and now starting full-time as a junior advisor with a SIE license. She has also became Principal's youngest member of their diversity and inclusion fellowship.
How valuable are clubs for your résumé?
"They are, but that's not why I participate in them. I already have a job. Being involved on campus just has an intrinsic value and educates me on how I can help my community. I chose to pursue becoming a financial advisor so that I could bring financial literacy and generational wealth to my people. Clubs and organizations give me practice towards real-world leadership and activism."
What about your on-campus jobs?
"Working at the Leduc Center is one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had on campus. It's helped me develop in-the-moment problem-solving skills. We have to weigh how to use our resources to help our communities without being ignorant and having a savior mindset. Having these views will help me educate first-generation students on their finances, which is an important goal of mine."
What have you taken away from your internship?
"I was looking for a job when I got to college, but wanted to use my intellect in a position that would bring me value later on. I started at Principal Financial as a private staffer, and got to shadow my boss on some client meetings. She always described her goal as giving her clients 'the peace of mind to retire comfortably.' That's great, but I noticed that the vast majority of our clients were white.
"When I looked at their starting balances, they were mostly starting from nothing and were able to retire comfortably. I got to thinking, 'why can't I bring this experience to other Hispanics and people of color?'
"I recently passed my SIE licensing, allowing me to start full time as a junior advisor. I plan on moving to the Boston area to be closer to my boss, and hopefully ingrain myself in a community with a strong Hispanic population like Dorchester."
Have you had a favorite class or professor?
"Professor Steven White, and Assistant Teaching Professor Jaqueline Einstein. They both handled my personality really well and I had a lot of fun in the discourse of their classes. Although I've never had her as a professor, Deirdre Healy has been one of the most impactful lecturers in my college career. She’s one of the main reasons I’m graduating with the success I’ve had."
Do you have a favorite memory here?
"Decorating for UnityFest last year. After everything was done and you could just sit back and watch people from different cultures mixing and enjoying themselves, it was really rewarding. It was such a strong showing of unity and UMassD as a melting pot. It was a great atmosphere for diverse faces and languages to come together to speak the languages of happiness and joy."
Why do you think UMassD was the right choice for you?
"I think I struggled with doing too much during my first year. During my sophomore year we were remote because of the pandemic, so I was struggling to integrate myself. When we got back to campus in my junior year there was such an effort to bring back pre-COVID vibes and energy, and getting involved in that effort really helped me feel like I belonged here."
What's one thing you’ll miss about UMassD?
"I can't walk through campus without saying 'hi' to someone. It's sometimes a problem when it takes me too long to walk from one building to the next because I get distracted and there's always something going on. I'll miss the millions of little connections I had each day on this campus that made me stop and smile."
How prepared do you feel to enter the next phase of your life?
"I feel very prepared for my career. I'm a little scared to leave the clubs and organizations behind that I’ve put so much time into. I know they're being left in great hands, but I can't help but feel like I'm leaving part of me behind here."
Do you have any advice for first-gen students?
"The moral of my college experience is that nothing can stop you. I'm an independent student with no guidance from parents. I got in a car crash, I had incompletes on my transcript, I was on academic probation. But I made it. If you look for support on this campus — from faculty, from support centers — you can thrive here.
"A lot of first-gen students don’t understand that a lot of people are set up for success in college, and we wonder why we struggle and think it's because we are less worthy. This is not true, some just have advantages that we don't. When we stumble, or miss a step, it's easy to give up. But we have to keep going. There are so many people on this campus whose job is to help us. Use that help. Deirdre Healy in the Leduc Center and the Unity House are two great places to start."