Nov. 8 is national first-generation (first-gen) celebration day, with many schools across the country celebrating students who are among the first in their families to attend college.
Instead of a single day, Miami University has an entire week devoted to first-gen students.
Since 2019, Miami has used the week of Nov. 8 to honor first-gen students and provide them with resources related to mentoring, career exploration and financial aid.
Activities took place this year from Nov. 7 through Nov. 11. They included networking events with first-gen alumni, a recognition at the Miami vs. Ohio University football game and even a board game event.
Ashley Hopkins is a senior assistant director at the Student Success Center. She said the success of the celebrations stem from a diverse planning committee.
“It’s a very collaborative process — no one is ever turned away from [the planning committee],” Hopkins said. “There are people from the Career Center, Admissions, faculty from gerontology and statistics, and Renate Crawford, among others. It brings people together in the spirit of celebrating one of our communities on campus.”
The 2022 celebration was the first time the week was held in-person since 2019. Hopkins said the week was a way to give first-gen students a community and information that otherwise might not be there.
“I’m a first-gen student myself — back when I was in college, there was no first-gen programming,” Hopkins said. “[First-gen week] helps create a community where students can meet each other and learn about opportunities they might not know about due to not having the same types of social networks and connections as their continuing-gen peers.”
The problem of not having as much information about opportunities in college is a common one for first-gen students.
Maelynn Geoppinger is a first-year majoring in linguistics. Her parents went to college, but neither graduated. She said the hardest part for her was applying to college in the first place.
“My parents had some experience with college, but not enough to where they could really help,” Geoppinger said. “I remember doing applications and college prep, asking what I needed to do, and they were like, ‘dude, idk [sic].’”
Geoppinger was only able to attend the national first-gen celebration reception on Thursday, but thought it was a good way to celebrate students in a way that she hadn’t thought of before.
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“I wished there were honestly more people, but I liked it,” Geoppinger said. “I was never really aware of the concept of being first-gen, and I feel like Miami has brought to my attention it’s something that can be celebrated.”
Becca Blanco, a first-year majoring in professional writing, has also had some problems with navigating through college processes. Her parents never had the opportunity to go to college beyond trade school, and she is the first of her family to live away from home while going to college.
“It feels like I have a leg down on the competition at times,” Blanco said. “I have to navigate finances by myself since my parents don’t know how to help me. I’m figuring out how to file the FAFSA, get scholarships and apply for loans, whereas a lot of my friends forward an email to their parents, and they do it for them.”
Blanco attended a lunch workshop, a panel with first-gen speakers on it and the Thursday reception. She enjoyed the events, although she did wish the timing was different.
“I’m really grateful for the experiences and people I got to meet,” Blanco said. “I definitely think there should be more programs and activities like these. However, something earlier would have been really beneficial for helping first-gen find a community like this.”
Some professors also help create the sense of community for first-gen students.
Robert Davis is a statistics professor who was also a first-gen college student. He helped host the board game event on Friday and said the events were meant to help with the isolation and confusion that could be felt by some first-gen students.
“If I look at Miami today, first-gens are only about one out of every seven or eight of our students,” Davis said. “It would be easy for a student to think they are the only first-gen student here because everyone’s like, ‘my aunt went here’ or ‘my dad went here.’”
Davis said his advice to first-gen students is to find a community and try to make new friends.
“For me, what really worked was that I was able to reach out and make friends [in college] right away,” Davis said. “While this is harder at Miami due to its size, it’s important to find a niche, whether it’s a student organization or an intramural sport.”
Above all, it was this idea of community and connection that made Miami’s first-gen week impactful for students.
“[The events] gave me a sense of community, which is really important to me,” Blanco said. “It’s hard to feel at home in a place like this because I lack generational resources and ties. Attending all these different meetings and stuff helped me meet people in the exact same situation I’ve been in and know there are other people struggling like I am.”