Cal State San Bernardino’s First Year Experience hosted a First-Generation Student Welcome Reception as part of its newly launched initiative, I’m First Alliance, a program to support new first-generation students – both freshmen and transfers.
The inaugural event, which took place on Oct. 2 in the university’s Santos Manuel Student Union Events Center, was to celebrate the first-generation community, engage in discussions, bring more awareness to the first-generation student experience, and support students’ transition to CSUSB.
Primavera Reza-Nakonechny, STEM counselor at the STEM Center in the College of Natural Sciences, said it was important to attend the event. As a first-generation student, she said she struggled during her undergraduate years to find peers and mentors with a similar background. She didn’t realize how important it was to find this support until she went to graduate school.
“Now being in my role as a first-generation staff, I feel it is so important to give back to the community and give back to other students who are in similar positions that I was in,” she said. “I think this (event) is very important because it’s empowering to the students, it’s validating their successes, it’s showing you have a strong support and strong community here.”
The event proved to be popular, as registration for the inaugural event reached capacity. About 250 first-generation students, faculty, staff and administrators attended the reception. Overall, 81 percent of CSUSB’s student population identifies as first-generation, estimating 16,000 first-generation students on campus this academic year. Around 70,000 CSUSB alumni are first-generation.
The welcoming speakers included Ashley Watterson, First Year Experience coordinator; Shari McMahan, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Jay “Von” Monteza, CSUSB psychology transfer student who is first-generation. Donna Gotch, professor of communication studies and first-generation college student, spoke following lunch and a group discussion.
“We, among many other institutions across the United States, are taking proactive steps to really address not only the challenges and the needs that first-generation students have, but to begin to celebrate all that you bring to our campus community,” Watterson said in her welcome remarks.
“We never want our first-generation students to be ashamed that they are the first in their family to go. Truly you are the trailblazers, the community leaders, whether that’s for your family members, your siblings, your cousins, or for people that are just in your community.”
“You have to take initiative. You need to extend your hand and ask for help, to be a bit vulnerable so you can become stronger,” said Monteza, who shared his experiences of being a first-generation college student. “When you ask for help, you acknowledge that you don’t know much, but it also gives you the opportunity to learn and become better … and even though it seems scary at the moment, you do have people around you who are on your side, who share similar stories … It may not always be fun, it may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.”
Attendees participated in both a small and large group discussion as well as a Kahoot activity, which was created to help “re-educate” students on some of the services on campus as they navigate through their first year at CSUSB. Attendees also received a first-generation T-shirt and button.
The I’m First Alliance initiative will feature a series of transitional workshops in the fall to address both the challenges first-generation students may face and the assets and perspectives they bring to enrich the campus community. Visit the First Year Experience website for more information.