Nikayla Begaye

My First-Generation Story: Nikayla (Nikki) Begaye ’20 ’21G

Growing up on the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona, Nikki Begaye ’20 ‘21G lived in houses without running water or furniture and attended schools with insufficient educational resources. Despite the reservation’s financial and academic limitations, Begaye’s mother always encouraged her to seek higher education, a pursuit she fully embraced.

On May 21, Begaye will graduate from Lehigh with a master’s degree in elementary education, then pursue a career as a teacher in Philadelphia. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in Chinese from Lehigh in 2020. She is the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. 

The accomplishment is significant. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, only 1% of the undergraduate population in the United States and less than 1% of the graduate population are Native Americans.

We asked Begaye what advice she’d give her #firstgen self: “Plan ahead and find a social community that can help you balance everything. If you’re coming into any university by yourself, just try to find a solid foundation or sense of community … at the school because it helps a lot when someone else is there to help you.”

We also asked Begaye about what people may not understand about #firstgen students: “ hard it is going into college from the education system you’re from. It’s just harder to adapt and go at a very fast pace, because everything in college is fast. You need to be prepared for basically everything because a lot of students who are in a higher socioeconomic class are more prepared than students who are in a lower socioeconomic class. A lot of people who don’t have those resources find it harder to adapt and move with the pace, so you have to be prepared.”