Blazing a family trail: First-generation student Karen Angeles earns doctoral degree in engineering

Author: Brendan O'Shaughnessy

Karen Angeles, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (2013)
Karen Angeles '23 Ph.D. was a Deans' Fellow during her time at Notre Dame.

Not a single member of Karen Angeles’ extended family in southern California had ever attended college.

It just didn’t seem like a realistic possibility because it had never been done before. But Angeles didn’t stop at college—she continued onward to Notre Dame to get a doctoral degree in structural engineering and graduated on May 20.

In her wake, a cousin two years younger followed her example. And her younger brothers have never questioned whether they can go to college.

“It had a domino effect,” Angeles said. “I was just figuring it out as I went along, hoping and praying that someone was going to let me in. And it’s crazy what happens within 10 years—how much changes—just because one person had the audacity to go do something new.

“It’s creating opportunities for our entire family. So I think that’s where a lot of pride comes in, from knowing that we’re lifting each other up by doing things like pursuing higher education.”

Angeles is one of many first-generation students who will graduate this year, earning her degree from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences in the College of Engineering. She credits the support of her family; her mentor, Tracy Kijewski-Correa; and a series of “pipeline programs” for helping her navigate an unfamiliar trail.

Read the full story in the University's 2023 Commencement Student Stories collection.