UC Clermont graduate pioneers path as first-gen college student

Education was Ayla Deck’s priority; now it’s her passion

This April, Ayla Deck celebrated an accomplishment that was a first in her family — graduating from college.

“At one point I wasn’t sure if college was even in the cards for me,” said Deck, who graduated this spring from the University of Cincinnati Clermont College with an associate degree in pre-middle childhood education. “I’m so happy to be where I am today.”

Deck, like more than half of UC Clermont students, is considered a first-generation college student, defined as a student whose parents or guardians did not earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of high school graduation. Deck’s parents pursued trade work in fields they are passionate about, she said, but did not earn college degrees.

However, they supported Deck’s decision to pursue higher education; she also felt a responsibility to serve as a role model for her younger brother. But the path ahead was unfamiliar and overwhelming.

“When you take being a first-generation student and combine it with applying for and attending my first year of college in the midst of a global pandemic, things were pretty intimidating to say the least,” Deck said.

Having graduated from West Clermont High School in 2021 and grown up nearby, Deck knew UC Clermont would provide a gentle introduction to college life. The campus boasts small class sizes, personal attention and tuition half the cost of most other Ohio colleges and universities. She soon came to value the rich classroom experience created by the varied backgrounds of her classmates, too.

I wouldn’t trade my background or experiences at UC Clermont for anything in the world.

Ayla Deck UC Clermont '23

UC Clermont alumna and scholarship recipient Ayla Deck thanks donors at the college's Community Celebration Luncheon in March.

UC Clermont alumna and scholarship recipient Ayla Deck thanks donors at the college's Community Celebration Luncheon in March.

“My classmates included mothers, fathers and people who hadn’t been to school in over a decade,” Deck said. “Oftentimes, I was sitting in class with a 35-year-old father to my right and a 16-year-old girl in high school to my left.”

With interest in becoming a teacher, Deck also got involved on campus, helping to pilot a peer mentorship program with the college’s Office of Student Success and serving as a tutor for local high school students from UC Clermont’s Learning Commons. She received the Social Sciences Faculty Scholarship for $2,000 to help fund her second year in school and shared her experiences and appreciation as a speaker at the college’s 2023 Community Celebration Luncheon in March.

“Those opportunities not only confirmed that I made the right choice in my career path, but they also fueled the passion I already have and pushed me to be the best student I could be,” said Deck.

Next, Deck will seamlessly continue classes this fall at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, as she works toward her bachelor’s degree in teaching. But this spring, Deck paused to reflect on her success so far, as she pioneers a path new to her proud family. And she feels thankful, she said, for the individuals and the institution that have helped her reach this milestone.

“As a future educator, scholarship donors are not only supporting my own education, but the education of my future students,” Deck said. “I wouldn’t trade my background or experiences at UC Clermont for anything in the world.”

To apply to UC Clermont before the July 1 fall semester deadline, visit ucclermont.edu/apply.

Featured image at top: UC Clermont graduate Ayla Deck on UC Clermont's campus. Photos/Danny Kidd

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