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Former Student Panel Talks First-Gen Experience

Published on 11/8/2020 11:47:08 AM

By Jada Gonzalez '20

The Routh First-Generation Center staff hosted a virtual former first-generation student panel on November 6th. The former students spoke about their experiences navigating Texas A&M University and their unique perspectives on higher education. As part of the First-Generation College Celebration week, the entire Texas A&M community was invited to engage with the panelists and ask questions about what it truly means to be a first-generation college student.
 
“For me, being first-generation means being a trailblazer,” said Caroline Lee, doctoral student at Purdue University. Lee is pursuing a PhD in statistics and notes that her first-generation experience shaped her educational career. Her mother was an immigrant from Korea and, through the sacrifices her mother made, Lee is forging a new life for herself through her education.
 
Lee spoke about how being a first-generation student is “honoring to those that came before you, and working hard now.” The panelists agreed that it took a lot of courage and grit to make it through their undergraduate studies and pursue graduate school.
 
“I felt that I wasn’t at the same level that everyone else was at when starting college, but I embraced my first-generation identity, '' said Jacqueline Guerra, a graduate student in the Bush School of Government and Public Service. “Once I did that I found other people that are first-gen and created a community.”
 
The panel agreed that help from other peers and campus resources such as Transition Academic Programs and Counseling & Psychological Services were an integral part of their academic and personal success. They were able to overcome challenges such as imposter syndrome, homesickness, and the fear of choosing the wrong major.
 
The panelists provided real and honest experiences to the attendees by speaking about what happens behind the curtain of college life. “With the practical challenges of not knowing about the higher educational system and the mental challenges of undergoing imposter syndrome, college can feel overwhelming and exciting all at the same time,” said Heidi Pargas, a graduate student in the College of Medicine.
 
An audience member asked about how the panelists’ first-generation status affected their relationships with their friends and family members back home. For many first-generation students, it can be challenging for their loved ones to understand the challenges they face in higher education.
 
“For the friends and family that didn’t go to college, it was one of those things where their experiences were based off of those at home and the peaks of high school, whereas my experience was hard to relate to,” said Edwin Aguilar, an Academic Advisor for the College of Engineering. “My family felt as if they had nothing to contribute, as far as help with college, so when I would bring up my college struggles the conversation would just die.”
 
Another audience member asked about the impact of institutions creating designated first-generation spaces on campus and eliminating barriers for first-generation students. The panelist agreed that forming a community was important in their undergraduate studies.
 
“Having a space where we, as students, could share our struggles with people who were going through the same thing is important,” said Pargas. “That way students feel like they are not alone. Trust yourself, and don't question yourself because your identity as a first-gen should not limit you. It should drive you to where you want to be.”

About the Routh First-Generation Center
The Routh First-Generation Center, under the direction of the Office for Student Success, is dedicated to providing support to all first-generation students at Texas A&M University. Support for our students includes programs and advocacy for students as well as coordination, professional development, and advocacy for the faculty and staff that work with them. More information.