Chris Lim knows the challenges of being a first-generation student. 

Growing up in Malaysia with seven siblings and parents who did not finish high school, it was a struggle to find the money to attend school from the time he was a youngster. He often worked to help pay for tuition which dragged down his grades. But he overcame that and other barriers to eventually earn a PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology from Boston University School of Medicine.

“As a first-gen student, we can have the mindset that we don't want to ask for help, that we can push through it all by ourselves,” said Dr. Lim, who has been an assistant professor of physician assistant studies at the MGH Institute since 2019. “But as a faculty member, I know it’s important to see if our first-generation students are having difficulties and dealing with things as soon as possible.”

That’s what he’s doing with first-year PA student Dinangile Aulet. A native of the Dominican Republic, Aulet was nine years old when her family immigrated to Puerto Rico. Like Lim, she was a trailblazer in her family, the first one to attend college when she earned an associate degree to become a licensed practical nurse. She eventually married and moved to Boston, where a combination of scholarships and part-time work helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology and biology from the University of Massachusetts Boston. After graduation, she worked in research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a pediatric office at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and for a medical device company. But the pull to directly help people continued to tug at her, so she decided to become a PA at the Institute where Lim has been her advisor since her first days on campus.

“Dr. Lim tells me what things to focus on in his class and tries to be as helpful as he can be because he’s been through it himself,” said Aulet, who meets with him regularly. “He’s very sincere in wanting to help me.”