FirstGen seeks to assist first gen students

Photo by John Nakano

Transitioning to college can be a tricky point in any student’s life—adjusting to social norms, academic rigor and even family pressures to strive for excellence can make certain parts of freshman year stressful.

These pressures can be heightened for students who are the very first in their family to attend college, known as “first generation” students.

There is a large need for providing support to these students, many of whom are very qualified for study in highly-ranked colleges despite family backgrounds.

Tech provides ample resources to help any student who has earned admission into this school receive the best support system they can, for a satisfying and well-rounded college experience.

This starts from day one. Tech’s mission of “progress and service,” and the growing number of first generation students that are admitted here, shows that there is a strong need for creating a concrete organization of students, mentors and professors to cater to them.

Cecili Redi is the founder of FirstGen, an on-campus, student-run organization founded in October 2012, that provides a sense of community and fosters pride among the first generation students at Tech.

The organization provides mentoring programs, information sessions, shadow days and community service opportunities and gives incoming students a path to get more involved on campus and to obtain information that they need in order to be successful.

“There were a lot of things that I wish I was told or informed about that other students who may have had support and resources from parents or siblings that have already made the successful transition to and through college,” Redi said.

“For instance, I remember learning that a considerable amount of money from Tech was transferred into my account by direct deposit,” Redi said. “I was ecstatic, naturally, but also very uncertain of where the money came from.”

It was this and many other experiences that led Redi to create the small community of first generation students, both those who fall in that category and even those who do not identify themselves as such.

“I wanted there to be a dialogue about how we can make the process of getting into college easier, the likelihood of staying in college higher and the celebration of achieving such accomplishments clearer,” Redi said.

FirstGen’s shadow days are one of the first impressions prospective first generation students have of Tech. It allows high school students to meet current students, follow them for a few hours, have lunch and participate in other programs.

Another one-on-one initiative of the organization is FirstAid, which is a peer mentoring program that serves as the primary initiative in their freshmen outreach.

“This program’s goal is to not stress academic workshops or anything similar, but to ensure that students know the underlying work to college, the things the tour guides can’t disclose,” said Michele Washington, the director of Freshmen Involvement.

The other main facet of FirstGen that was implemented this semester is its cohort GT1000 class for freshmen, which provides an alternative and much more personal approach to the course in an environment with peers who share the same background.

“Building trust and a community feel in the class is really key,” said Dana Hartley, one of the instructors of the class. “I know that the TLs’ presence and their stories are what really give the class context and the first generation freshmen a sense of community in the class.”

According to Hartley, seven percent of the freshman class this fall identified themselves as first-generation students, which amounts to about 200 students total.

FirstGen has received wide praise from organizations across campus and hopes to grow in the upcoming years to accommodate more first gen students.