The motto of UNC's First-Generation Student Association begins with the words, "I may be the first, but I won’t be the last."
FGSA aims to assist in the transition to college and to create a space that celebrates the difficulties and successes associated with being a first-generation student.
“There are so many different identities that first-generation students have in addition to being first-gens,” said Lissie Rivera, president of FGSA. “We didn’t know what we were doing going into college; it was hard to figure things out and it’s still hard, and a lot of us have to help our younger siblings.”
To help first-generation students transition to college life, FGSA hosts a variety of social and professional development events. On National First Gen Day, which is held in November, Rivera said the organization hosted a game night with free merchandise, and spoke to the community about what being a first-generation student is like.
Professional development opportunities offered by the organization include helping members look for jobs, prepare for interviews, work on resumes and revise their LinkedIn profiles. On Sept. 15, FGSA will be hosting an event called “Advocating for Yourself as a First-Gen,” where they will discuss email etiquette, how to be heard outside of the classroom and how to ask for recommendation letters.
To help first-generation students understand their situations, the organization hosts open discussions on current higher education topics — like the UNC Board of Trustees' initial failure to offer Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure and recent discord between administration and students — and how they affect the first-generation community, particularly in reflecting how first-generation students can feel overlooked at times.
“Being a first-gen college student is a big part of my identity,” said Georgios Kostantinis, FGSA vice president. “I’m passionate about helping people understand that it is something to be celebrated.”
At FGSA's general body meeting on Sept. 8, Rivera said they also talked about COVID-19 in the UNC community, including the importance of vaccinations and where to get vaccinated on-campus.
FGSA also sends out newsletters that include a variety of resources found around campus, such as Counseling and Psychological Services, Peer2Peer and wellness coaches offered by Student Wellness – all programs aimed at providing student support. In the past, newsletters have also included advice from professors who were first-generation students themselves.
“(We share) anything that could be helpful as a first-time student, maybe introducing them to career services, anything financial aid related,” said Gina Park, a member of the FGSA Marketing Team.
Last year, UNC graduation was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and FGSA took the initiative to host their own graduation ceremony – similar to a departmental graduation, but directed at first-generation students, Kostantinis said.
The ceremony's speakers included Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and now-retired North Carolina men's basketball head coach Roy Williams – who was a first-generation student himself. The keynote speech came from Dr. Eve Hudson, who runs her own podcast, titled “The First-Gen Lounge,” which highlights the experiences of first-generation college students. It was streamed on Facebook Live for parents and family to watch from home.
Rivera hopes that FGSA continues to be a resource for first-generation students.
"We really want to have that sense of community on campus, where we know who to reach out to when we are just stressed out," she said.
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