A First-Gen Experience with Focused Inquiry and Transitioning to College


My name is Jamshid Forugh, and I graduated in May 2022 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Sciences. I drafted the following essay during my freshman year to provide a glimpse of the Focused Inquiry (FI) course for the next year’s freshmen. Winning first place in the essay contest, it was published in the FI course’s 2020-2021 edition of the textbook, Space and Place: Focused Inquiry I & II.

If you are a freshman, this essay is for you. My hope is that it will help you with your transition from high school to college. Starting the college journey is a significant moment for everyone, especially if you are a first-generation student like I am. Coming from a rough background and overcoming adversities to get here, I want you to realize the magnitude of this moment and how you can make the most out of it. 

Now graduated, I still go back and read this essay. It helps me appreciate how far I’ve come. I am thankful for opening the door for every opportunity college had to offer to me over these years. Therefore, I ask you to face your challenges head on and pave the way for others behind you to follow.

What is Focused Inquiry?

First of all, take a moment to applaud yourself for making it this far. You finally made it to college and that means you have overcome challenging obstacles in order to get here. You are about to start a four-year journey that can determine your career for life. I can say with confidence that you will do fine, like the millions of people graduating from college every year.

Not too long ago, I was sitting where you are now, wondering what Focused Inquiry means. In fact, the first question on the first day of class I asked my professor was: what is Focused Inquiry? Here I am now pondering the same question again--except for the fact that this time I will be providing the answer. Focused Inquiry will not only ease your transition from high school to college; it will give a focus to your college journey. The number of doors that this class opened for me towards advancement, optimism, and opportunity are uncountable.

My family left a devastated war-torn country, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 2014. At age 13, with no knowledge of English, I started high school. Hoping to make my family proud, my goal was to attend college as the first person in my entire generation. I was nervous and constantly worrying about my success in college because of my limited ability to understand and speak English. Once I got to college, there was one class that gave me my confidence and inspired me to not set the sky as my goal while I know there are footprints on the moon, as country music artist Paul Brandt wrote. That one class was Focused Inquiry. For the first time, I felt that my presence had an effect on my environment. For the first time, despite my strong accent, my voice mattered, and it was heard and valued. For the first time, I left my point of view and started seeing issues from the other 359 degrees. For the first time, I saw no boundaries for caring and helping people. Focused Inquiry unleashed the power within me to seek every opportunity that can make a difference in someone’s life--far and beyond where hands can reach.

The necessary experience I gained during my time in UNIV 111 qualified me to earn a position in a student organization on campus. The Fundraising Chair position I maintained allowed me to develop various ideas to raise money for building schools in Afghanistan. Being able to contribute back to where I came from was one of the proudest moments I ever held in my chest.

Focused Inquiry makes you aware of your surroundings, constantly pushing you to discover solutions for problems in your community. FI provides you the opportunity to explore a social problem and trains you to lead a discussion about it intellectually. In UNIV 111, it didn’t take me too long before I went from a quiet student, feeling insecure about my English ability to speak, to having a discussion with the author of our common book. I felt the change in me when I first sat down for a meeting with Valeria Luiselli, the author of VCU’s 2018/19 common book Tell Me How It Ends. Our discussion about how children in Central America are being forced to migrate to the north due to lack of hope for their future took me back home. It made me think of little children in Afghanistan struggling daily to earn enough money so their families can eat. Many of them have no parents, as they were either killed in war or simply separated from their families.

We all have had a golden opportunity in our lives and often realize its importance only when it is over. I want your first approach towards Focused Inquiry to be as if you’re given the key to open as many doors as possible for a future full of hopefulness, advancement, and possibilities.

Forugh, Jamshid. “What is Focused Inquiry?” Space and Place: Focused Inquiry I & II 2020-2021 edition, edited by Focused Inquiry Textbook Committee, Hayden-Mcneil, 2019, pp. 9-10.

About Jamshid

Yamshid Forough
Jamshid Forugh

Jamshid Forugh is a 2022 graduate of VCU with a degree in Interdisciplinary Sciences. He composed the letter to future students titled “What is Focused Inquiry?” in the spring semester of 2019. He is an aspiring dentist and loves the combination of art and science behind crafting teeth.