As a first-generation student herself, Huerta-Bapat recognizes that first-generation students typically have to deal with more than just their studies.
“Some of our students also have the unique situation where they’re actually the main caregivers for a parent or a grandparent,” she said. “So, in addition to the added stress of just being a student, they have to navigate what it is to help parents choose the right provider for whatever ailing situation is going on.”
Students are encouraged to refer to Carolina Firsts Advocates, professors who have been trained to understand the complex issues that this population faces. Senior Dhanesh Budhram is a first-generation student who values the advice from professors and other mentors he’s met at UNC.
“I’ve been lucky that all of the people who work with the Carolina Office of Undergraduate Retention and Carolina Covenant and Carolina Firsts, as well as a lot of my professors, both in the biology department and outside, have been wanting to give me a lot of advice and answer a lot of my questions,” he said.
In order to strengthen the mentorship provided to first-generation students, Carolina Firsts has partnered with organizations like the Carolina Covenant Scholars program — a program helping low-income students. Huerta-Bapat notes that Carolina Covenant and Carolina Firsts are not the same, since first-generation students come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, she is aware that many of the students come from families that are under significant financial constraints and may have to work long hours to make ends meet.
Recently, Huerta-Bapat has seen an increase in the number of first-generation students who are concerned that their immigrant parents will be deported. In light of this situation, Huerta-Bapat says that it is especially important to advocate for first-generation students and celebrate their journey to obtain a college degree.
“We want students to know that we are proud of their achievements, their accomplishments, and we want them to be here,” she said. “The University thrives by having them and bringing their unique perspectives.”