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University Honored First-Generation College Students

First-Generation Students Celebrated


First Generation Students 1The University celebrated first-generation students by participating in the country's annual National First-Generation Day. This entailed a discussion panel on Nov. 6 in Anacon Hall and a tabling event on Nov. 8 in the Rebecca Stafford Student Center. 

The day was established in 2017 by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, described on their website as a nonprofit organization “dedicated to furthering the expansion of college opportunities for low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities.” This is the second year of the annual celebration.

The initial panel session consisted of eight first-generation students who spoke about the successes of first-generation students of the campus community. This was a tabling event that was held to raise awareness about and celebrate first-generation students in the Student Center. 

The panel was moderated by Claude Taylor, Advisor-in-Residence for Academic Transition and Inclusion, who was joined by Jennifer Shendock, Coordinator of Transfer and Undeclared Services; panel members were asked to share academic, social and cultural issues related to being a first-generation student. Students and faculty were present in the audience, as well as University President Grey Dimenna, Esq., and Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement.

“It was informative and powerful to hear students and staff talk about what it means to be first-generation and also the successes and challenges they face as a part of their first-generation identity,” said Taylor. “The most moving discussion was about the family challenges students face in terms of meeting expectations and feeling a strong sense of responsibility and obligation to their loved ones that sometimes can be a source of stress.”

Students that shared their backgrounds include: Celine Powell, a sophomore communication student; Camilla Gini, a junior, business marketing and management student; Santiago Almeida, a junior social work student; Claudia Sanchez, a senior social work student; Rebecca Gonzalez, a junior social work student; Esosa Ruffin, a junior political science student; and Jimmy Duong, a senior software engineering student.

“We are trying to break the stigma of first gen students being only minorities or low-income families, first gen can be anyone. We want to welcome everyone let students know that they are not alone because Monmouth Hawks fly together,” Powell said. 

The second event was a tabling event held at the Student Center to raise awareness about first-generation students nationally and on campus. First-generation buttons were distributed to students who were also given the opportunity to sign up for the student-mentoring program called First to Fly. Last year, six Monmouth students attended the Annual First-generation College Student Summit hosted by Mount Holyoke College, but this year the University celebrated on campus. Taylor said, “I see these kinds of events as a way to raise awareness on campus about first-generation identity and to explore the need for community-wide supports for first-generation students, faculty, staff and administrators.”

Powell shared, “The impact is to create an open mind to our college community and to build a system of support for each other, to make everyone feel included and a part of this movement.”

First Generation Students 2Taylor also mentioned that the office of Enrollment Management has been interested in the experiences of first-generation students for several years along with the Office of Transformative Learning led by Vice Provost for Transformative Learning, Kathryn Kloby, Ph.D. This work is closely connected to the Monmouth University Strategic Plan implemented a few years ago, according to Taylor. Also, first-generation student initiatives grew out of the adoption of campus-wide student success tools such as the College Student Inventory (CSI) which allows the University to learn more about what support students need and how best to build that programming.  

“I too identify as first-generation and my advice to students would be to learn as much as they can about what it means to be first-generation and talk about their experiences with trusted others,” said Taylor. “By understanding the challenges and opportunities often facing first-generation students they can be more well prepared to get help and move closer to achieving the most important goal, as I see it, graduation with a bachelor’s degree.”  

 Duong stated, “My advice to first-generation students is be proactive, no matter what. Don’t just wait there for the future to come to you because before you know it, that opportunity had already left the station.”

Currently, Taylor and Powell are leading the initiatives of the First to Fly: First-Generation at Monmouth club as well as the First to Fly campus mentor program. Powell stated, “Around this time next year, I would like to see this club blossom and turn into an academic and emotional resource for students.” 

Duong stated, “First to Fly will have a big impact in the upcoming years because it is not only for first-generation students, but for a community to acknowledge that there are many first-generation students and faculty at the University.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Celine Powell