About a year ago, Dr. Jerold Hale had a question for his mom.
“I said, ‘Did you and Dad ever think that I was going to graduate from college?’ And she didn’t miss a beat. She looked at me and said, ‘We didn’t even think you were gonna go.’”
Provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga since 2019, Hale gives a hearty chuckle at the memory.
More than just attending college, Hale was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1977.
From there, he earned a master’s (in 1982) and a doctorate (in 1984) from Michigan State University. Both degrees were in communication.
Growing up in Santa Maria, California, located on the coast about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hale said he felt like “a fish out of water” while a student at UCLA.
“UCLA, in many ways, was overwhelming to me,” he said. “It was so large, and people everywhere. There probably were close to 30,000 students at that point in time. My high school, I think, probably had 1,000 students.”
Feeling like the odd man out didn’t disappear as he progressed through his educational pursuits, he said. The weight of being the first in the family to climb the college ladder was heavy.
“You’re not sure because nobody in your family’s done it before or whether you’re good enough to do it,” he said.
In some ways, though, anxiousness can be a positive.
“Sometimes it’s motivating,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do a little therapy with yourself.”
Hale’s degree odyssey began as a debate team member at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria. Learning how to get your point across and back it up with supporting facts is a lifelong advantage, he said.
He credited Harry Bersentes, a social studies teacher at the high school, as the person who pushed for him to consider a college education.
“There’s absolutely no reason I should be where I am now,” Hale said. “The entire reason I’m here now is because one high school teacher encouraged me to go to college.”
His parents were a major factor in his continuing education. His father worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base—about 25 miles south of Santa Maria—and took out loans from the credit union for Hale’s tuition. His mother worked several retail jobs over the course of his college career.
“I think it was financially difficult for my parents,” Hale said.
He didn’t let his parents foot all the bills, though. He earned money as a graduate assistant at Arizona State and Michigan State to help offset costs and worked three jobs to make ends meet at UCLA.
“There’s a theme to all three of my jobs there,” he said. “In the morning, I would get up and go to work in the cafeteria in the residence hall where I lived. It came with free food.
“Around noon, I worked at a hamburger place on campus. It came with free food. Then in the evenings, I worked in the kitchen at one of the sorority houses.”
You know where this is headed.
It came with free food.
Celebrating First Gen Week: November 7-12
Now in its fourth year, First Gen Week has daily events from Monday, Nov. 7, to Saturday, Nov. 12, including:
- Monday: First Gen Week Kickoff, 3-5 p.m., top of Cardiac Hill
- Tuesday (National First Gen Day): “I Belong” Breakfast with Gary W. Rollins College of Business, 9-11 a.m., Fletcher Hall
- Tuesday: Outdoor Movie Night with SaFE, 7 p.m., Chamberlain Field
- Wednesday: First Gen is Sweet, 3-5 p.m., Barr Building
- Thursday: Tri-Alpha Tabling, 1-3 p.m., top of Cardiac Hill
- Thursday: Workplace Perspectives Panel, 5:30 p.m., University Center Tennessee Room
- Friday: First Gen Professional Networking, 6 p.m., Guerry Center
- Saturday: UC After Dark, 8-11 p.m., University Center
Click here for the complete First Gen Week schedule of events.