First Gen. Spotlight: Stowell-Moore

Nov. 8 marks First Generation Day, as part of the University of Florida’s First-Generation college students’ weeklong celebration. This was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE) worked on a series of interviews for a few first-generation students.

Donald Stowell-Moore, Civil Engineering Senior

Could you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to pursue a degree in your field of engineering?

I come from a single parent household, with my father raising me until I was 13. I moved from a small town, Bell Florida, to Gainesville to live with my grandmother. I was poor growing up, and with none of my family having gone to college, they struggled to make a living. Once I moved to Gainesville and had internet access, I started watching education YouTube videos. Most of the videos I watched were science and technology related, and I found the topics very interesting. I learned a lot from those videos, and I naturally grew more confident in my science and math classes because of that. My confidence in science and engineering continues to inspire me to take any opportunity to learn more about the interesting world around me.

As a first-generation college student, what challenges did you face when entering higher education, and how did you overcome them?

One of the difficult things to navigate as a first-generation student is preparing for college. In early high school, I wasn’t aware of the scholarships and grants that you can get by having good grades, or the grades you’d need to get accepted into different universities. The other challenge I faced was being able to afford to move. Luckily for me, I was already living in Gainesville, so UF was the obvious choice. I started at Santa Fe for my AA, and then got accepted into UF for Civil Engineering.

What achievements, research or projects are you most proud of during your academic journey?

When I started at UF, I wanted to get involved with extracurricular activities, and that’s when I got introduced to the UF Steel Bridge Team. I got involved with the fabrication of the Steel Bridge and moved into the Fabrication Manager role after 1 year on the team, and I am currently one of the two Project managers for the team. Since joining the team in January 2022, we have won 2 National Championships. The accomplishment of winning the competition, and the camaraderie I’ve experienced while being on the team will always be something I cherish.

Could you share any advice or words of encouragement for other first-generation students considering a path in engineering?

I think it’s very important to use your time as a student to grow your own knowledge and passion for what you’re doing. Also, get involved with your community and grow your network. When you start your career, you will be working with other people, and having strong social skills or personal relationships will give you more opportunities that you realize.

How has being a first-generation student shaped your perspective and approach to your studies and career?

I feel like being a first-generation student gives me an appreciation for making your own path. Not knowing how to navigate academia, or financial aid proved to be a hurdle, but not something I couldn’t overcome. It’s also shown me that you can get help from anywhere, not just your family. Whether it’s information online, or advice from an advisor, you can make the best out of any situation. It’s not always easy, but if you put it the work to find them, there are a lot of resources that can help you.