First-Generation Success Story: Dr. Patrick Dolan

Dr. Patrick Dolan, Professor of Psychology at Drew University

  • Realize You’re Not Alone.
  • Work Hard.
  • Be Driven.
  • Know You Can Do It.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” –Dale Carnegie

I sat down with Dr. Dolan to discuss his life and learn how his journey to success was informed by being the first in his family to pursue higher education.  He cares about his students and wants them to do well. This starts by understanding they are at Drew for a reason.  He believes students should feel confident they are qualified, and with grit and determination they are sure to do well.  He believes a strong work ethic is one of the keys to success coupled with a resilient spirit that never gives up.  Also, Dr. Dolan wants you to remember that you are not alone.  Keep plugging away.  You can do it!

 Where were you born and raised?

Schenectady, NY

 Where were your parents born and raised?

My mother was born in Killarney, Ireland and father in Albany, NY

Do you have siblings?  What are they doing today?

I have an older brother and he works for the County of Schenectady

Did you parents encourage you to go to college?  If so, how did they encourage you? 

No, but I don’t think any of us even considered it. Once I made the decision to apply to college and got accepted, they were very encouraging.

Were you a good student?

In high school, not particularly.  I got serious in college.

Where did you go to high school?

Linton High School in Schenectady, NY

Where did you go college?

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY

Did you know what you wanted to major in during your first year?   When did you decide on a major? 

Yes, I came to college with psychology in mind, and I took Psych 101 my first semester and loved it.

Did you know what you intended to do with your major?

I thought I wanted to be a psychologist, not that I really knew what that was, but in books and movies they were well paid and helped people!

 What were your greatest challenges as an undergrad?

From a first gen perspective, navigating the whole financial aid / business office / paying for college process.

What surprised you the most about college?

If you stay organized, put the time in, and take advantage of opportunities, the possibilities are endless.

 Were you conscious that you were a First-Gen student?

I suppose.  You got the sense that it is not the norm.  It also often splits along financial lines so that can add to the contrast.

How did that manifest itself in the way you handled college?

Given the cost, I wanted to get the most out of it.  This probably put me on a path to success.

Were your parents able to pay for your college or did you depend on scholarships, grants and student loans?

It was a combination of all of the above.

 Did you find yourself socializing with other First Gens?

No, not really. It wasn’t ever discussed. Now that I think about it though, my closest friend in college was also likely First-Gen. We had a similar work ethic and background, which is probably why we got along so well.

 Did you feel a sense of community?

Not among other First-Gen students.

 Did you have a mentor(s) as an undergrad?

I had an academic advisor in the psychology department, and several other professors who I was (and still am) close with.  I can’t recommend more highly getting to know your professors

What could have made your experience as an undergrad better?

More money and a reliable car!

How was your experience in grad school?

Challenging, rewarding, enormously fun.

 Did you know you were going to pursue a Ph.D after your M.A. at NYU?

Yes, I was accepted directly into a Ph.D program so the M.A. came along the way.

When did you know you wanted to teach at a college level?

In my 2nd or 3rd year of college.  I was inspired by my professors – to my 20 year-old self, it looked like an ideal job – teaching, learning, mentoring, on a serene campus, with a flexible schedule!  The reality is slightly different from that, but Drew has been a great place to work.

What was your first teaching job?

I taught a few courses during summers of graduate school, but my first full time teaching job was Drew University.

What do you believe is the secret or recipe for your success?

I find what I do interesting, so I don’t mind working hard at it.  I’m also a planner and goal-setter –  have a good calendar, and stay organized, and keep your eye on the prize.

 How did you learn resiliency?

Resiliency is bouncing back even stronger after a setback.  My parents were good role models  – they worked hard, took chances, faced challenges, and made things happen.  My Dad built a small business and my mother navigated the corporate ladder without a degree.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a successful person?

A strong work ethic.  But work smartly! Organize your time, set goals, and work toward achieving them.

What advise could you give First-Generation students who are just starting college?

You got this!  Have questions? Want to meet others? Stop by!   Be resilient, work hard, and take advantage of opportunities that come your way.

 Some fun questions:

Do you have any hobbies or special interests you would like to share?

I collect coins from around the world- thousands of them!

What do you like the most about teaching?

Working with students, seeing their successes, helping them through the challenges.  Being a teacher also means I get to stay a student.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Auto mechanic?, Carpenter?  Engineer?

If you could travel to anywhere in the world tomorrow where would it be?

 Peru or Belize

 Favorite time of year and why?

Summer because I have more time to have adventures with my family.

Is there anything else about you, you would like to share?

When I started at Drew, my only car was a 1977 Volkswagen bus

Patrick Dolan, Professor of Psychology, received his Ph.D and M.A. from New York University and his B.A. from Marist College. His Post-doctoral research was at Washington University in St. Louis. His areas of specialization & research interests include Memory and cognition: cognitive illusions; conscious and unconscious influences of memory; cognitive aging.


Yasmin Acosta coordinates the Arts, Communications, & Languages Career Community and the First Generation Identity/Affinity Community. She also manages the Peer Career Coaching Program, counsels and advises students on career, job, and internship plans, critiques resumes, cover letters, CVs, and personal statements, and presents career development workshops. She also assists with the Student Employment program.  Prior to this position Yasmin was the Program Coordinator for Drew University’s Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology from Rutgers University, a Master’s degree in Arts & Letters (Literary Studies) from Drew University, and is pursuing a Master of Education also at Drew.


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