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What’s It Like to Be a First Gen College Student In 2021?

From left to right: Maylin Vazquez, Gabriella Rodriquez and Cimone Weeks.

November 8 is First Generation College Celebration and we’re celebrating some of our own first generation students here at Millersville University like Cimone Weeks, Gabriella Rodriquez and Maylin Vazquez, who all share their unique experiences of being the firsts in their families to pursue higher education.  

CIMONE WEEKS: CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY MAJOR FROM LANCASTER 

1. What do you want people to know about first generation college students?  

The college application process is bit more difficult for us especially because there’s isn’t someone in our families who didn’t go through the process, don’t know what to do or how to apply. We can get so much help from high school counselors/advisors but they aren’t always readily available. My parents tried their best to help me throughout the process, but there was only so much they could do. So, for the most part, we have to do the application process alone.   

2. What’s the best part about being a first generation student?  

Being able to be a role model and mentor to the first gen students after me, especially my younger sister. My younger sister is a senior in high school and I get to help her with the application and decision process – two things that I had to figure out on my own. Not only this, but being an Afro-Latina, first gen student makes this even more special because it shows that students in my community can make it to college and graduate, even if they’re the first to do it.

3. What inspired you to choose your career path? 

I chose a career path in psychology because I was always that friend or go-to person that people trusted and felt comfortable with to vent and share what they were going through, judgement-free. Taking this into consideration with also gaining more knowledge during my undergrad years, my values and interests, I chose clinical psychology.  

4. What advice do you have for other first generation students?  

Keep going and keep trying. There will be obstacles that you will have to face but the reward 100% outweighs the struggle. Get to know the people who are put in place to help you during your college journey and know that they are your family away from home. Lastly, take breaks, practice self-care, take advantage of the resources across campus, and remember that you deserve to be here & you got this! 

GABRIELLA RODRIQUEZ: SOCIOLOGY AND SPANISH MAJOR FROM LANCASTER, PA.  

1. As a first-generation college student, what made you want to go to college?

My parents came to the US as immigrants from the Dominican Republic so that my sister and I could have better educational opportunities. They sacrificed a lot for me to be able to go to college so I do it for myself and for them! 

2. What kind of obstacles did you face as you navigated the process of applying and getting accepted to college?

I didn’t have the help of my parents as they didn’t know how to go about the college process. I had the help of my high school teachers and mentors. Imposter syndrome is the worst. At times, I felt like I didn’t belong in college or I felt alone. I’m grateful to my professors and mentors who encourage me. 

3. What do you want people to know about first generation college students? 

We’re setting an example and a foundation for the generations after us! We’re so intelligent and capable and have come to far without the help of our families. We’re resilient and hard working. Most importantly, we deserve the space we take up. 

4. What’s the best part about being a first generation student?

The best part is making my parents proud. I get emotional seeing them wear their “Millersville parent” shirts. Also, knowing that I’m setting the foundation for my future children is amazing. It starts with me!  

5. What inspired you to choose your career path?

I’ve always been passionate about social justice which is why I decided on sociology. Spanish is a huge part of my heritage and my culture and I’ve always wanted to study it. I’m honoring my background by studying Spanish in an official, undergraduate setting. It’s a big part of who I am.   

6. What advice do you have for other first gen students? 

Get connected with other first gen college students. Join First Gems of the Ville! It’s important to feel supported and no better way to do that than to build community with other students.  

MAYLIN VAZQUES: GRADUATE LEVEL SOCIAL WORK MAJOR FROM LANCASTER, PA 

1. As a first generation college student, what made you want to go to college?

The “thing” that made me go to college was family. Going to college was always bigger than myself, my college degree was not just for me per say, but it was for my family sacrifices, ancestors and the women in our history who fought for us to be able to have the right to receive an education.  

2. What kind of obstacles did you face as you navigated the process of applying and getting accepted to college?

The obstacles I faced as I navigated the process of applying and getting accepted to college were the typical obstacles any first gen face. I was lucky enough to be a part of a program called Squash Aces, they helped me apply to college, complete FAFSA and tour different colleges but the obstacles I mainly faced were financial. I did not know who and where I was going to get money to pay for my school. That was a major stressor for me because I knew my family did not have the money or resources to pay for school.  

3. What do you want people to know about first gen college students? 

We need some extra support, guidance, understanding and love. These four things can seem very simple, but these simple things go a long way for first gens.  

4. What’s the best part about being a first generation student?

Being the very first in my family to get a degree and leading the path for my family to be able to learn, receive a higher education and make courageous decisions.  

5. What inspired you to choose your career path?

For me, it was not what, it was more like who inspired me to choose my career path. My father and mother raised me on a very Important value “be kind to people.” I watched my dad give rides to strangers, give food to the homeless, sometimes even his clothes and I watched my mom pray for strangers, share kindness all over and love thy neighbor. These are all things I watched growing up and inspired me to become a social worker, not just to help people but to be kind to people who need it most.  

6. What advice do you have for other first generation students? 

The advice I have for other first gen students is get out of your comfort zone. My favorite quote is “No growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.” In order to grow to your full potential, you must be uncomfortable. College may be hard, and you may feel uncomfortable but that only means you are growing.  

7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?  

To all first gens at Millersville, if no one told you lately, just know I am proud of you!            

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