Steve Zylius / UCI
“I was a late bloomer in terms of education,” says David Igler, a UCI professor of history. “While many of the kids around me came from families with extensive education in their background, mine did not. My father was a construction inspector and my mother a secretary. Although she liked to say she attended business school, it was secretarial training she completed in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1944. She really knew how to take shorthand!”
Although going to college may not have been a regular topic of conversation at home, it was frequently discussed at Palo Alto Senior High School. “Being in the shadow of Stanford University helped create a unique educational environment,” Igler says. “I had friends who were in honors and AP classes, but I certainly was not, because my parents didn’t know such a track existed.”
His academic awakening came during his sophomore year, when he began writing for the school newspaper. “That was when I finally kicked it into gear,” he said. “I loved journalism and went on to edit the school paper during my senior year.”
Some of Igler’s friends suggested he go to a liberal arts college to pursue a degree in journalism. It just so happened that a good friend was already attending Wesleyan University and convinced him it was the place to be. Igler was also attracted to the school’s Middletown, Conn., location, because he “wanted to get as far away from Northern California as possible.”
Once there, he discovered that most of the students were far better prepared than he was to navigate the college experience. Undaunted, Igler earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in American studies in just five years, with plans to become a high school teacher or a journalist.
“One’s success at college usually comes down to putting in the long hours and picking the right path,” he says. “I had some incredible advisers – professors who not only turned me on to the world of ideas, but also modeled what an academic career could look like. It was their example that inspired me to continue my education, so I came back to California and got my Ph.D. in history at UC Berkeley in 1996.”
Igler has been teaching at UCI since 2004, and although he doesn’t consider himself a role model, he does think it’s very important to share his background with today’s first-generation students.
“They need to know that some of their professors are not from a long line of professional ancestors. In fact, many of us went through a similar process of finding our way through the college experience,” Igler says. “As professors, it’s our job to mentor individually as well as to teach classes. Most of us are very receptive to mentoring undergraduates, and we first-generation faculty members are thrilled at the opportunity to talk with first-generation students.”