MSU Geography PhD Student Publishes Guidebook for First-Generation College Students

July 19, 2021

Kionna Henderson, MSU Geography PhD student and author of "If You Ain’t First, You’re Last: A Guaranteed Acceptance Guide to Successfully Transition from High School to College"Kionna Henderson is currently a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Geography, Environmental and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. A native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, she stayed close to home while earning her BS from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). After completing a Master’s degree in Public Health at Tulane University in 2019, Henderson chose to enroll in the doctoral program in Geography at MSU. If that wasn’t enough on her plate, Henderson also decided to write a book aimed at high school students, especially first-generation college students, to guide them through successfully transitioning to higher education. As a first-generation college student herself, Henderson is well-acquainted with the challenges facing such students and hopes her book offers valuable first-hand advice and lessons from her own educational journey thus far.

We recently sat down with Kionna for a conversation about her research, experiences at MSU, her outlook for the future, and the publication of her book entitled If You Ain’t First, You’re Last: A Guaranteed Acceptance Guide to Successfully Transition from High School to College.


Writing a book while working on a doctorate is quite an accomplishment and must have been challenging given the demanding schedule of a PhD student. What inspired you to write it?

Writing the book was the least challenging portion of this process. I am big on giving back to my community and helping the generations to come. This book was on my heart to write, so the words flowed easily. The hard part is publishing and marketing the book. I am still in the process of marketing, and it is a little bit more stressful due to my PhD program; however, I know that when you are meant to do something in your life, it all works out.

Your book is filled with a wide range of guidance, but if you could give students only one piece of advice, what would it be?

The book provides so much information at every step of the high school education process to prepare for college. One piece of advice I would give is to be intentional in everything you do. It might seem frivolous being “intentional” in high school; however, my book provides detailed instructions on how to be intentional in preparation for higher education.

Do you have any role models?

Yes, I do! My role model is my mom. She is everything I hope to be. She is consistently loving, caring, supportive, motivational, and inspirational. Her heart is made of pure gold, and she is forever my greatest role model!

Why did you choose to complete your PhD at MSU?

I would say that a PhD at MSU chose me, and I could not deny it! From the first time I meet Dr. Dee Jordan and Dr. Shortridge on that warm and sunny day at Tulane University in New Orleans, I knew MSU was the right place for me!

What are your research interests and the subject of your doctoral work?

My research interests are centered around racial disparities and maternal health. Black women are more likely to carry the burden of morbidity and mortality more than any other race. As a Black woman myself, I wanted to study the causes of this disparity gap and provide methods to influence policy and program interventions to combat this issue.

Community service has always been a priority for you. What types of community service activities are you involved and what goals are you hoping to accomplish through this work?

Currently, I created and maintained a scholarship at my high school alma mater in honor of my late sister, Andrika, who passed away from cancer my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. I began the scholarship in 2019 and thus far have provided three scholarships in her honor.

In addition to writing a book, working on your degree, and serving as the Council of Graduate Students (COGS) Representative for Geography, you are also part of a trio of graduate students that host a geography-focused podcast. Tell us about it?

Yes! I and my two co-hosts, Veda Hawkins and Raven Mitchell started the People, Space, and Place podcast. This show was created for many reasons, but the objectives are to show diversity in the Geography field given its background and serve as an outlet for us to discuss our research and further our knowledge. Dr. Moore presented the platform to me, and I shared this great idea with my peers. Thank you, Dr. Moore, for your support. Thank you, Veda and Raven, for being the best co-hosts in the world. 

If people are interested in purchasing If You Ain’t First, You’re Last: A Guaranteed Acceptance Guide to Successfully Transition from High School to College, where can they do so?

Pre-Orders are available for purchase now at Books will be readily available on Amazon and my website beginning August 1, 2021.