I grew up on a family farm in New England. My father was one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met. He and my mother provided for 8 children and worked 7 days a week, 15-18 hours per day. He would always encourage my siblings and I to get an education. None of my siblings pursued advanced degrees beyond high school. I am the youngest of family and when I showed an interest in going to college he and my Mom were excited.
Their excitement wasn’t the only reason I decided to go to college. I wanted to learn. Following my parent’s example, I learned how to work hard and I’ll forever be grateful for the lessons in developing a strong work ethic. But I wanted to learn more about animal behavior, veterinary medicine, nutrition, and animal diseases. I started attending a community college part-time to “test the waters”. I completed 2 years at the local community college and then transferred to the state land-grant institution where I completed my BS degree. During this time I endured criticism from my siblings and former high school associates. They made comments referring to how college was a waste of time and how I should be out working. I would come home from attending classes, usually early afternoon, to deal with being called lazy because I hadn’t been working the farm all morning. My father and mother were supportive but my siblings were not. The criticism (based on a lack of understanding, not malice) only fueled my desire to succeed.
Another difficult part of being a first-generation college student was that I didn’t have anyone close to me who had gone through being in college and could offer advice. For example, when I had an unreasonable professor, or to share various study techniques, etc. Also, my family was not wealthy. I had to work 40 plus hours a week to pay the bills. I would get up between 5 and 6 a.m. every morning and not go to bed until midnight or 1 a.m. the next morning. That didn’t leave much time to socialize so my girlfriend of 4 years decided I wasn’t spending enough time with her and moved on… fueling my desire to succeed even more.
In the end, it was all worth it. It took 5 years to get my BS degree. I went on to graduate school at Texas A&M University and worked at various institutions of higher education, such as Louisiana State University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Minnesota. Currently, I serve as the Dean of the William H. Darr College of Agriculture at Missouri State University. When I first stepped on a college campus and took my first college level course, I never envisioned I would be a college dean and have travelled/lived in various parts of the USA as well as Canada along the way. This journey would have never been possible without taking that first step towards college and persevering through the challenges. I like to think that I was able to set an example for my younger family members. Since I “broke the ice” many of my nieces and nephews have attended/are attending college and are doing well. I get phone calls from them on occasion, asking for advice. I like to think that I helped/inspired them in some way.
Dr. Ronald Del Vecchio, Dean
William H. Darr College of Agriculture