By Eliza Partika
UCI First Generation, an initiative to promote success for students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education, celebrated its incoming and current first-gen students on Oct. 4 with I am First Day. During the festivities, students enjoyed music, games and a resource fair where students could find out more about resources available to them on campus. Sixty percent of students at UCI are first-gen, something that faculty and staff at the event, who were all first-gen grads themselves, encouraged students to be proud of.
“You are brave, talented, and smart,” said associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies and history Anita Casavantes Bradford in her speech to those attending the event, adding, “You are the future.”
The resource fair featured UCI’s new FRESH Basic Needs Hub and DREAM Center, as well as the Cross Cultural Center, the Career Center, UROP and Study Abroad Opportunities and UCI’s Counseling Center.
Nayeli Lopez, a first-year student, has already found her experiences as a first-generation student to be challenging.
“You have no guidance; you have to advocate for yourself and look for attention and support,” she said. “It’s on you to reach out and find resources, and at such a big school, this can be challenging,” Lopez said.
Janet Avila, another first-gen student, expressed similar concerns, but does not regret her decision to attend a university.
“I am a bit overwhelmed from the fact that I can’t reply on my parents for information,” said Avila, “but I am proud that I decided to go to school.”
Avila also noted that she wants to get an education so that her children will be encouraged and inspired to go to school in the future.
Despite the challenges, students are continually reminded of the family that defines and inspires them as first-gen students.
“For me, it’s about having the opportunity that my mom didn’t have. It’s an opportunity to be a woman who gets an education,” said Alejandra Valdez, another first-year student.
Richard Seja, a second-year, said, “It’s a totally different experience, because both of us, me and my parent, are going through it together, we’re both trying to figure it out.”
The first-generation program at UCI seeks to take the stigma out of being a first-generation student, and encourages students to embrace their identity with pride. The program trains faculty who self-identify as first generation to be mentors for students as they enter university and on to their graduation.
“Being a first-generation student is scary. But I kept asking a lot of questions and found my way. When first-gen students don’t have guidance, we can be there to provide them with resources,” said Sandy Yang, a staff member at the UCI Student Health Center and a first-generation graduate.
Faculty mentors present at the event were available to answer any questions from students, and students took advantage of the resource. There was never a moment where faculty weren’t heavily surrounded by students.
As Ebony Chavez, a peer project advisor for the program stated, “Today is dedicated to first gen students and faculty to celebrate this big accomplishment and to know that we are a community.”