First-Generation Student Planning To Give Back

Reina Kinnaly ’20 may be a first-generation college student, but she’s got plans to make sure she’s not her family’s last. And she wants other students in her situation to know that they have options to make a college education happen.

Growing up in a military family — her father is a retired 21-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and her grandfather was a Navy veteran — Reina learned to accept the sacrifices that come with having a parent serving the country. Reina’s father, Brian, was often deployed for long stretches. But it was important to him to keep their home in one place as much as possible since he was a military brat himself. Trying to insulate his family from the itinerant lifestyle that military families often experience, in 2002 Brian settled them in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

After high school, Reina knew that she wanted to go to Carolina, but her family wasn’t sure how they would make it happen. Her acceptance to Carolina brought excitement and pride to the family, and the later news that she qualified for support brought joy and relief.

“My dad always told me that it wasn’t him making the sacrifices but it was us, his family, since we had to go through many times without him,” Reina said. “With this support I feel that the University is acknowledging the sacrifices of military children and I’m extremely appreciative of this show of gratitude.”

Now a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in exercise and sport science, Reina is supported by the Carolina Covenant and is an inaugural recipient of a Steve and Debbie Vetter Military Family Scholarship. Without this support, Reina wouldn’t be at Carolina.

“I see all of this as a big blessing, because I know that I couldn’t be here without this support,” Reina said. “It makes me feel like the sacrifices we all made as a family over the years have been recognized. Seeing my mom having to work harder when my dad wasn’t able to be there to help really showed me how to push through adversities.”

Reina is passionate about making sure other prospective students with similar life experiences learn about all of the resources that Carolina has to offer. Inspired by her work-study position in the UNC Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Reina plans to join the Carolina College Advising Corps for two years after she graduates.

“I want to be that person, the one who helps other people like me find the funding to make their college dreams come true,” she said.

Inspired by Reina’s lead, Reina’s sister, Soriya, is navigating through the college application process in hopes of being just like her sister. This lets Reina practice working with students such as those she hopes to help follow in her footsteps.

Reina was named as a Vetter Military Family Scholar in Fall 2018 and is supported by the Red, White and Carolina Blue Challenge.

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