First Generation students celebration

Junior Jennifer Gutierrez, a first-generation student from Omaha, Nebraska, poses at the First Generation Celebration hosted by TRIO Nov. 6-7 in the J.W. Jones Student Union.

First-generation students had the opportunity to meet other people who have similar experiences and celebrate their college journeys in conjunction with the annual National First-Generation College Celebration.

TRIO, Student Senate, the Student Success Center and the B.D. Owens Library staff came together for the First-Generation Student Celebration as a casual come-and-go event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 7 in the J.W. Jones Union Living Room.

First-generation students make up 37% of Northwest’s student population, according to the Student Success Center. Of the freshman class, 47% report being a first-generation student.

Assistant Director of Orientation in the Student Success Center Kat Falke said she was a first-generation student, so she experienced challenges unique from other students whose parents had gone to college.

“It’s important to support students as best as we can and to provide them the resources that they need to be successful,” Falke said. “I just want our first-generation students to know they are seen, and they are important, and we are here for them.”

The event included a photo booth, access to various resources, a raffle and advice for first-generation students on notecards and a slideshow. Students who entered the raffle had a chance to win one of eight gift baskets, Beats headphones or a $250 raffle.

Student Senate put the gift baskets together, which senior Tubias Johnson said were made up of items students need to use often. As a first-generation student, he said his family didn’t know what to get him because his first care package was only a large bottle of hand sanitizer, toothpaste and socks.

“We just got some of those things that are often forgotten or college students don’t realize they need until they get it,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of an incentive (for people to come), but care packages are also things first-generation students don’t usually get. So we just want to bring those to them.”

Freshman Athena Ellis said she was excited to be at the celebration and show her pride of being a first-generation student.

“I’m doing this for me to be better than my parents, to provide for them when I’m done, to make my future better because I know I can be better,” Ellis said. “I didn’t necessarily have the support of my parents because they didn’t go to college so I’m doing it on my own. It’s an unknown terrain for them and myself. This is what I need to do to be what I want to be.”

One activity allowed students to anonymously share the academic, financial and wellness challenges they face as a first-generation student. They could mark which applies to them by putting a sticker under the listed challenge — such as paying for college, homesickness, mental health, budgeting or talking to their professors — on a poster. If they didn’t see one that fit them, they could submit an obstacle they face in a comment box.

Attendees could write thank you letters to supporters which will get mailed out. Johnson said the connections he makes at college are important.

“This is something we celebrate year-round. No matter what, for first-generation students, it’s vital to know we’re represented and supported here,” Johnson said.

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