Aerospace engineering junior Elena Djudaric grew up watching her father sacrifice for the betterment of their family.
He moved to the United States from the former Yugoslavia with hardly anything and eventually met Djudaric’s mother, who emigrated from the Philippines. He worked — a lot — multiple jobs. And he always kept the end goal in mind, reinforcing to her once she began considering college that “it’s better to cry for four years than cry for 40.” That adage would go on to guide Djudaric as she endeavored to become the first in her family to earn a college education.
“Remembering that quote helps push me through some of my academic challenges,” the Orlando, Florida, native says. “My family’s constant support is my biggest inspiration in getting where I
“My family’s constant support is my biggest inspiration.”
A recent recipient of a James W. and Essie W. Barfield Endowed Scholarship, as well as a second scholarship from The Miami Foundation, Djudaric remembers calling her dad immediately after hearing the news of both wins, and he encouraged her. Today, she aims to similarly encourage fellow first-generation students. As a mentor and team lead in the university’s Discover Embry-Riddle program, which provides a living-learning community, support structures and programs to help first-generation students succeed, Djudaric shares her experience transitioning from high school to college with freshmen, offers advice and routinely checks in on them to see how they’re doing.
“A piece of advice I would give to incoming first-gen students is to take opportunities, apply for that scholarship or job, make some new friends, take care of yourself and, most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help,” Djudaric says.
“There are others who have felt or may be feeling the exact same way as you and, eventually, they got through it. Never. Give. Up.”