“Don’t stop until you’re proud.”
During my time as a graduate student, I’ve been lucky to be involved in the first-generation student program at Northern.
When the time came to pick an academic service learning project for a class in the Fall of 2014, I was drawn to the idea of conducting focus groups with first-generation students. Although I had met many first-generation students during my time in the residence halls, and it was something that I knew would push me out of my comfort zone, I was nervous. I am not a first-generation student and for the most part, I knew what to expect when I started. I never really thought about the fact that I came to college with a leg up on others. I just assumed that everyone knew what a resident advisor was, how to sign up for classes, and what general education courses were.
As a complete introvert, talking to total strangers and asking them about their life wasn’t (and still isn’t) my favorite thing to do. But I knew that I would love working with Lina Blair, the Assistant Dean of Students and I knew that the topic of first-generation students was being heavily overlooked in higher education across the country. So I took a deep breath, and I wrote it down as my top choice.
Once Lina and I started meeting, it didn’t take long before I was hooked. Immersing myself in research, I learned more and more about the first-generation student population, both here at Northern and around the country. I learned about the effects of having little social capital resources, the influence of high school curriculum on achievement in college, and the effects the transition to college has on a student. It should come as no surprise that when it came time to decide on my internship, I immediately approached Lina to see if I could be involved in her plans for launching the inaugural first-generation student program.
Fast-forward to November 18. Today is the final day of our “First-Generation Awareness Month” here at NMU. It has been a wild few months pulling all of the activities together, but I can’t say I would have had it any other way. Our activities and topics were varied but they were all developed with the first-generation student in mind. We held programs in the residence halls on how to deal with the transition home for break and how to study and prepare for the end of the semester. We held a panel of first-generation faculty and staff from NMU talking about their experiences and a first-generation current student panel talking about their experiences as well. We developed posters and buttons and tried to bring awareness to this unique group of students.
As I see “First-Wildcat” buttons across campus, I am so proud to be a part of this inaugural group. I am extremely proud of students I’ve been working with, as it’s never easy to fit another commitment into an already packed schedule. I’m proud of how I took the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, and work to make Northern a more inclusive place for first-generation students. I’m proud that we have brought first-generation students to the forefront of conversation, and we helped chip away at the taboo that comes along with the title. I am proud to be a “First-Wildcat” and be associated with so many brave, fiercely determined first-generation students.
Even though we’ve made huge strides this semester, I know that I won’t be complacent. There is so much more to do, and I am excited to keep working hard next semester. I may be proud, but I’m sure as heck not done.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Alexandria, Doug, Emily, and Alexander, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.