“Not only am I the first in my family to attend college, but I am also THE first to graduate high school on both sides of my family,” Ralph Zamora PZ ’21 wrote in an email to TSL. “I broke through many barriers getting here and I am not finished yet!”
Going to college can be a big and exciting stage of life. College is composed of students coming from different backgrounds, and some of those are first-generation students, the first in their families to go to college. A few first-gen students at the 5Cs spoke to TSL about their college experiences.
Zamora believes that his going to college is a necessity to having a successful career and being able to support himself and his family. In particular, his passion for improving Earth’s health, along with the social, political, and economic well-being of humanity, has made him want to attend college and become an environmental politician.
As a college student, Zamora has talked to his younger cousins about the importance of education and given presentations on environmental science and college at his high school. He plans to continue doing this as well as expanding his outreach to his former elementary and middle school.
Viviana Ayala SC ’21 said she feels honored to be a first-gen college student.
“I feel like I’m setting a really good example for my siblings,” Ayala said. “I like making my parents and myself proud.”
With the increasing number of first-gen students at the 5Cs, The Claremont Colleges have developed programs to help first-gen students transition into college.
For example, a 2016 report showed that Pitzer College’s first-gen student applications have increased by 44 percent since 2013. Institutionalized three years ago, Pitzer’s Institute for Global Local Action & Study aids the FirstGen Program by providing resources to their first-gen students.
Laila Alvarez PZ ’18 is a FirstGen intern and is responsible for welcoming and supporting incoming first-gen first years.
“Working on the FirstGen program has made me reflect on my own college experience and thinking of new ways that I can assist students with the same questions or challenges in college,” Alvarez said.
A first-gen student herself, Alvarez felt support from the program when she first came to Pitzer.
“There were things that I did not know coming into college but having this community made my struggles a lot more visible, and I was able to ask for help,” Alvarez said. “This program made me remember why I was meant to be at Pitzer.”
First-Generation@Scripps, founded by Melissa Mesinas SC ’12, introduces first-gen students to college life three days before orientation starts. During that pre-orientation period, the program offers tours of classrooms and offices. The participating students are able to get a more familiar sense of the support and resources around them.
“They introduced us to faculty, and they guided us through the different resources on campus,” Ayala said. “We also met other first-gen students, which was very valuable to me.”
Recently, Scripps College published a newsletter featuring first-gen students and faculty. Four students and two faculty members answered questions about their experiences in college as well as their relationships with friends, family, and faculty.
This year, 19.2 percent of Pomona College students are first-generation. Pomona’s first-gen program partners with QuestBridge, an organization that connects high-achieving but low-income high school students to the nation’s top colleges. The partnership has been going on for a decade and has drawn in many first-gen students.
Harvey Mudd College’s Project Decode, part of HMC’s Office of Institutional Diversity, supports first-gen and low-income students by hosting workshops, mentoring programs, and community based events.
The CARE Center at Claremont McKenna College works with first-gen students both individually and collectively to help them adjust.
CMC also has a specific organization for first-gen students: 1Gen. Events such as karaoke night, destressors, and workshops are held to foster community, build leadership, and promote success.