UC Gen-1 student: ‘I have to make an impact in the world’

Cincinnati native sets a course for success

Donald Whittle is among the first in his family to attend college.

“I needed to decide what I wanted to do to make an impact on my family’s bloodline,” Donald says. He grew up in a neighborhood where gun violence was a frequent occurrence. He lost a friend to gun violence in grade school and multiple friends and a cousin to the same fate by the time he had reached high school.

“I believe that education is our ticket to a world beyond where we come from. It is an opportunity to set a new standard for those that come behind us, as well as a thank you to those who have helped us come this far,” says big brother Joseph, currently pursuing a master’s degree at UC in community planning.

Donald Whittle wearing a suit and sitting on the steps

Donald hopes to eventually be a full-time minister. Photo/Higley/UC Creative + Brand

The Whittle family didn’t allow external factors to limit opportunities. One of three children raised in a single-parent household, Donald says it was his mother and maternal grandparents who were a constant source of support and set the foundation for his faith and education.

“My mother made sure that we had what we needed to succeed,” he says, “along with my grandmother and grandfather playing an important part by supporting us along the way.”

Their guidance, and multiple moves to improve his surroundings, he says, led him to graduate from DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood with a 3.8 GPA. At high school, Donald served as co-president of the student council, a member of the National Honors Society and St. Vincent de Paul service team. 

Now that I’ve been through my first year, I realize it was the right place for me to be all along.

Donald Whittle Second-year business administration major

First-gen facts

  • 7,992 Bearcats are first-generation college students
  • First-gen students represent 91 countries and 39 states
  • 96% of first-gen students are employed or continuing their education upon graduation

During his senior year, COVID-19 hit. “I went from being a very busy person and being involved to isolation,” Donald says. “But I believe it was a blessing in disguise. I learned not only to take care of myself and the people around me but to value the time we have in life.”  

“High school exposed me to students who wanted to do better despite what neighborhood they came from and that environment changed my mindset. I knew then that I wanted to attend college and achieve generational success for my family.”

But he needed a scholarship to follow that path. His high school counselors, he says, suggested the Gen-1 scholarship program at UC. “I knew that to go to UC I would have to receive that scholarship to stay on campus,” he says. “Now that I’ve been through my first year, I realize it was the right place for me to be all along.”

“UC gives the necessary support and resources for Black students to succeed.”

Donald Whittle wearing a blue suit and standing on campus

Donald Whittle fills his days with academic pursuits and community service. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

And the successes keep coming. This UC first-generation student is a Dean’s List scholar, a resident adviser in the 1MPACT House, an alpha ambassador for the Gen-1 program, a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and serves as a worship leader at Light of the World Church in nearby Walnut Hills. 

Donald hopes to eventually be a full-time minister. He’s added a focus track in marketing and communications and a minor in organizational leadership to his business administration major so that he can learn the full spectrum of skills needed to lead a congregation and run the operational side of a church.

“I have a very, very busy life, but being at UC taught me the importance of not only time, but how much time I have to make an impact in the world I live in.”

Featured image at top of Donald Whittle: Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

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Whether you’re a first-generation student or from a family of Bearcats, UC is proud to support you at every step along your journey. We want to make sure you succeed — and feel right at home.