Celebrating First-generation Students

Humboldt State joined thousands of campuses on Sunday in a virtual celebration of first-generation students.

Reflections from those who are the first in their families to go to college during last year’s First-Generation College Celebration at HSU.

When she enrolled at Humboldt State this fall, Jammie Navarro became the first person in her family to attend a four-year university. Facing a number of challenges common to “first-generation students,” Navarro, a native Spanish speaker, navigates classes in her second language. Coming from an underserved community with limited financial resources, Navarro says that these kinds of barriers contribute to her sense of imposter syndrome—a feeling that she doesn’t belong at college.

“But it makes my parents’ long journey to get here all worthwhile,” says Navarro, a second-year transfer student in Sociology. “I’m not going to waste the opportunity they gave me, no matter what it takes to get my degree.”

HSU students like Navarro joined thousands of college students across the nation on Sunday for the First-Generation College Celebration. The 2020 event was a virtual gathering designed to share first-generation experiences and foster excitement for students’ futures. This was the second year that HSU participated since the event was established by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success in 2017. November 8 was selected in recognition of the passage of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which mandated federal funding for higher education, including scholarships, and low-interest loans.

At HSU, participation in the First-Generation College Celebration was facilitated by the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and TRiO programs, which supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds with advising, counseling, and college-readiness preparation.

In Fall 2020, 50% of HSU’s enrolled students were first-generation students, compared to 56% nationally, according to the Center for First-generation Student Success.

Gema Quiroz-Torres, academic services coordinator for the TRiO Upward Bound program, explains that this year’s virtual platform offered a number of online activities for students to interact and share stories and advice. Along with event co-coordinator, Liz Silver with EOP/SSS, Quiroz-Torres stresses that it’s critical for first-generation students to recognize that their challenges, and triumphs, are shared by many. Both Quiroz-Torres and Silver participated in the event as proud first-generation HSU graduates.

In the remote learning landscape of 2020, event organizers used social media to support conversations that will continue after November 8. “Last year, we established several aspects of our celebration online, including our Instagram page @hsufirstgen,” says Quiroz-Torres. “While we are eager to host live gatherings again, our existing online content helped us adapt the event to an online format.”

Quiroz-Torres and Silver hope that the virtual event provided a platform for first generation students to talk about the challenges, and opportunities, of remote learning and virtual communities.

“It’s all about empowering first-generation students to overcome obstacles in their college journey,” says Silver.

To learn more about the First-Generation College Celebration, visit the Council for Opportunity in Education at coenet.org/first-generation.shtml