Role Models

People We Admire

Although first-generation college students are the first in their family to attend college, they are not alone. There are many first-generation college graduates who have successfully overcome challenges and risen to leadership in their fields. They share their wisdom, give back to the community and serve as an inspiration to all. Here are some success first-generation stories to share as you craft your own.

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Indra Nooyi


Indra K. Nooyi is a successful businesswoman and is the first female CEO of PepsiCo. Nooyi earned her undergraduate degree in physics, chemistry, and math at Madras Christian College and her M.B.A. at the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta. After working at a British textile company and working as brand manager at Johnson & Johnson in Bombay, Nooyi moved to the United States to further her education. She continued her studies at Yale’s Graduate School of Management, and then joined Asea Brown Boveri Inc. as head of strategy. At PepsiCo, Nooyi worked as chief dealmaker and successfully executed some of the most important deals in corporate history for the company. She worked her way up and, in 2001, she earned the title of President. This made her the highest ranking Indian woman in all of corporate America. She was later appointed as CEO in 2006 and recently stepped down after 12 years in this role.

Nooyi was born into a conservative, middle class family in India in 1955. She grew up breaking all of the norms at a time when India was still conservative in regards to the behavior of women. Her mother, who did not attend college, instilled in Nooyi that she could do anything she wanted. During her free time, she has been committed to giving back. Her big advice for college students is to go into STEM. She says, “… your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and grounds you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is. It’s very hard to learn science later on in life. One of the pleas I would have for most young people today is, stay with STEM as long as you can.”


Leana Wen


Dr. Leana Wen is an American physician who is the former president of Planned Parenthood, making it almost half a century since a doctor has held this role at the organization. At age 18, Dr. Wen graduated summa cum laude from Cal State University, Los Angeles and went on to get her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine. She then became a Rhodes Scholar and attended the University of Oxford for her master’s degree. Following that, she was a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Wen has held multiple positions, such as the president of the American Medical Student Association and a volunteer at Planned Parenthood, and was named as one of the Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare. Aside from her current work in Planned Parenthood, she is also Baltimore’s Commissioner of Health.

Dr. Wen was born in Shanghai China. At age seven, her family fled from China in order to escape the Tiananmen Massacre. They arrived in the United States with only $40. She grew up in Compton, California and later moved to Baltimore where she has worked to expand health care and reproductive rights.