A Class Ring Made All the Difference

In 1986, Rae Mang, BSPH ’89, plunked down $185.45 for a class ring.  The price was steep for the University of Cincinnati (UC) sophomore, particularly since she was paying for her education. 

Rae Mang visits with First-Generation UC StudentsRae’s ring was more than a memento; it represented a promise to herself to be the first in her family to finish college. 

As a high school senior, she chose UC because it was the farthest state school from her front door in Cleveland, Ohio. Rae, who today is a University of Cincinnati Foundation trustee, was eager to experience the world.

“My mom was proud of the idea but puzzled,” says Mang, who was also the first in her family to attend university. “UC was 219 miles from my house. I had never been here before.  It was a leap of faith.”

Rae and her husband, John, BSIE ’88, met at UC; both were first-generation students. Because of their shared experience, they recently made a gift to help advance the UC Gen-1 program. Gen-1 helps first-generation, low-income students transition from high school to college, increasing their likelihood of earning a degree.

UC has taken its Gen-1 program further by creating student residence halls. The first of its type in the nation, UC’s Gen-1 Theme house is located in Stratford Heights, across from campus. First-year Gen-1 students are required to live in the house, part of the community of academic and social support that envelops them. Gen-1 students participate in community service activities and prepare for future employment through jobs, internships and co-ops.

During a visit to the Gen-1 Theme House, Mang met and shared her own college experiences with students. Like them, she had to navigate university life without a family blueprint, not to mention taking on the financial burden of school.
“Sophomore year I was working at night at an overnight desk in a dorm,” Mang says. “I did the 4-8 a.m. shift so I could study. My classes were hard and it wasn’t ideal.”

“I often struggled with feelings of self-doubt, thinking, ‘What am I doing here? Am I worthy?’ I wondered if I was doing the right thing.”

She wore her class ring every day – it served as a motivator and an inspiration.

Rae Mang visits with First-Generation UC Students

“I bought that class ring as a reminder that I had to finish my education and fulfill a promise to myself and my family,” she says. “It kept me grounded and was the gift I gave myself.”

Her education was another gift. Mang took her experience in science and pharmacy and parlayed it into a successful career in brand management at Procter & Gamble, which included a stint in Japan.

“UC was a great springboard for my career, I felt very prepared,” she says.

Today, she is an adjunct at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston. Her husband, John, works for Gillette.

“It’s hard to tell first-generation students, without being cliché, to keep at it,” Mang says. “I can definitely relate to them and remember that when you’re 18 or 19 years old, five years seem interminable. It’s a long haul, especially when you are the first down that path.”

But when Mang looks back on her experience at UC and her student ring that represents it, she knows the long years were worth it.

“They were the base for everything.”

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