First-Generation Student Spotlight: Briana Vazquez-Torres

First-generation college student. Does that word ring a bell? A first-gen student is an undergraduate enrollee whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree. Many of these students typically come from underrepresented ethnic groups or from low-income families, but do not let those factors stop them from being the first in their family to graduate from college.

Briana Vazquez-Torres, a sophomore chemistry student, identifies as first-gen and has several reasons for wanting to pursue a degree besides the challenges.

“I wanted to attend Monmouth University to follow my love for chemistry, to make my parents proud of me, and to set a legacy for future generations of my family here in the United States,” Vazquez-Torres said. The chance to go to college, is something that she holds close to her heart and takes advantage of every opportunity she faces.

“I feel very blessed to be in the position that I am in today, and my parents were not granted the same opportunities as me at their age. I cannot thank them enough for all they have sacrificed,” Vazquez-Torres said.

Claude Taylor, advisor for the First to Fly program and the Director for Academic Transition and Inclusion, aims to help all first-generation students at Monmouth settle in or get any help they need. He said, “There is a wide range of reasons first-gen students pursue higher education. We see interdependent causes for many students, like giving back to their families and making them proud.” He also said that first-generation students go to school for more independent reasons, such as expanding their knowledge.

Although many first-gen students feel very blessed to get the chance to make their family proud by obtaining a college education, they are sometimes meet with challenges to overcome, including the lack of financial resources and the difficulty of navigating the academic system. Additionally, many of these students often have less confidence in their abilities to succeed.

“First-gen advocates do see common challenges experienced by first-gen students such as lack of knowledge about the college experience, guilt about leaving their family to attend college, finances and social life,” Taylor said.
For Vazques Torres, it was precisely the financial factor and the lack of support that has been a major challenge in her college experience.

“It was challenging for me to apply for FAFSA, write my college essays, and navigate the different portals and websites because I had no one helping me. While it was no one’s fault because my parents didn’t go to college, it still was a challenging experience,” Vazquez-Torres said. Another struggle that she goes through is having a lot of pressure from her entire family to do well in school.

“It’s all eyes on me with my family because I decided to go to college and attain a form of higher education which not a lot of my family members have. My mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family expect me to succeed, and it can be very overwhelming on top of all my other responsibilities,” she said. However, while it can be overwhelming for her and other first-generation students, she advises not to let the pressure get to you.

For Taylor, the mission of First to Fly is rather personal. He is a first-gen student himself, and he aims to reduce the stigma of identifying as such. “My work with First to Fly is animated by a desire to see students thrive, not just survive their education,” he said.

First-generation students do have a challenging situation. However, they take the initiative to better themselves, their families, and life by seeking out higher education and making a name for themselves.

First-generation students face unique challenges, but the decision to be the first one in your family to enroll in college is the first step to not only making your family proud, but to accomplish everything you had always wanted. Remember that being first-gen isn’t a barrier, but rather the fuel to help you move forward.