There were so many things I wish I had known about college before I started. Neither of my parents earned bachelor’s degrees, and no one in my immediate family journeyed into higher education.
I was a first generation college student, and I was both thrilled and terrified to blaze a new trail. I was determined to earn a degree, but I was not sure how to do it. There were so many unanswered questions, but I reached my goal because of the emotional support I received from family, friends and mentors.
I recently met with another first generation college student who came to me to ask about her degree plan. Like many of these conversations, our discussion began with the logistics of her degree requirements.
She had questions about prerequisites and wanted to develop a plan to reach her final semester of college. However, our conversation eventually turned into one about the art of navigating college. She asked me how to approach professors she struggled to connect with.
She shared intimate details about her personal life and updated me on a few things I had missed since our last chat. She asked for advice. She listened with teary eyes and chuckled through a broken smile when I made corny jokes.
Towards the end of our conversation, she asked me, “How did you choose to do something different?” I reflected and shared my experience as a first generation college student. “I had a lot of support and I don’t know why I chose to go to college, but I always knew I would.” She related and it was a beautiful moment.
You are not alone as a First Generation Student
Being the first to do anything presents unique challenges and I believe these challenges require unique solutions. First generation college students face the typical issues that most students face as they adjust to the demands of college. This is a reality for every student and there is always a need for support. However, first generation students face an additional layer in navigating the college system. While I am grateful for the emotional support I received from family and friends, they could not always provide me with the insight I needed to navigate college. Many students have expressed this same sentiment.
This is why the Generation1 Program, formerly known as Engage, began in 2015, as a network of support specifically tailored to the needs of first generation students and their families, to help them successfully navigate higher education.
We started the program to let first generation students know that they belong at CTX.
During our first session, we invited first generation faculty and staff to talk about their college experience. We shared our own stories of trials and triumphs. We recognized the students and connected with them over commonalities.
We celebrated our diversity. Students were amazed to see first generation college graduates serve as professors, associate vice presidents and successful higher education professionals. The message was clear: we made it and we will help you make it, too.
This messaging is important to first generation students because it provides tangible representation of what they can achieve.
They see themselves in the stories they hear, and start out their college careers affirmed and supported. They can be proud of themselves and embrace their identity as leaders.
Breaking the glass ceiling
As the program coordinator of the Generation1 Program, I want to ensure first generation students are aware of the major accomplishment they are achieving as they embark on the journey of higher education.
The Generation1 team is dedicated to creating space for students to ask questions and soak up all the information they can. Many of our Generation1 students have made their marks as student leaders on campus and in their communities.
They serve in various departments as student workers, they are officers in student organizations and they are peer leaders in academic programs. Several of them returned to the Generation1 Program as sophomores and juniors to pour into freshmen students. We created the space, but now they own it. They learn, grow, face fears, build community and celebrate each other in that space and it is beautiful.
Although the program is designed for students in their first year at CTX, I invite every first generation student, faculty and staff member to connect with the Generation1 team to plug in to the community on our campus.
Many people across campus have Generation1 stickers on their office doors and wear pins with the student-designed program logo. It is one way we identify ourselves as first generation students and graduates.
I hope that when first generation graduates of CTX are asked, “How did you choose to do something different?” that they highlight their participation in the Generation1 Program as playing an important role in helping them accomplish their goal. We are first generation and proud!
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