FIRST! celebrates first-generation students

Chloe Stewart, News Contributor

On Thursday, Nov. 8, first generation students, students who are the first in their families to attend college, gathered in the Willamette East/West room in the library to mingle, enjoy a bite to eat, and learn more about FIRST! and the opportunities they can provide to these pioneering students. 

FIRST! is an organization at Oregon State University devoted to celebrating the achievements of first-generation students and helping them succeed. To accomplish these goals, FIRST! holds regular events to reach out to students and is working to launch a mentorship program that matches students to staff/faculty members who were first-generation themselves or otherwise want to support this community. 

This event also coincided with the national First-Generation College Celebration day, a time when universities and organizations like FIRST! across the country make efforts to recognize and honor the achievements of first-generation students. 

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According to Hannah Fitz, a first-generation college student and an intern for FIRST!, these mixers occur once every term, and this one has seen exciting success: the team planning this event expected maybe 40-60 attendees, but closer to 120 RSVPed to the event. Fitz also emphasized the goal of offering opportunities for these students to connect with each other and the rest of this community. 

“I think [FIRST! leadership is] wanting students to know that there are connections out there for them,” Fitz said. “I think a lot of students don’t necessarily know that, so I think that’s the most important thing for them.” 

Once the folks in attendance had a chance to mingle and pick up some food, the event opened with announcements from the FIRST! team, including a description of the mentorship program that they hope to start next term. This was followed by a video featuring the stories of OSU students and faculty members who are first-generation.

Lindsay Marlow, assistant professor and STEM outreach librarian as well as a member of the FIRST! Event sub-committee and a first-generation college graduate, was part of these announcements. Marlow indicated that first-generation students are an important and large group among students and that making this known can make a big difference.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Marlow said of helping students realize what it means to be first-generation and how they can connect with their peers. 

According to Marlow, self-identified first-generation students make up 22.9 percent of students enrolled this term. 

Once the video ended, the main activities began. During this time, folks were invited to participate in an ice-breaker game with prizes, sign up for the mentorship program, write comments and share their stories on large collaborative posters, take photos with an OSU background and form new relationships.  

For Meagan Flier, a first-generation college graduate in the first year of her masters program in coastal engineering, said the opportunity to connect with folks who have shared her experiences is the most important and exciting part of this event.

“It’s nice being able to have other like-minded people that know what it’s like to come from, a first-generation student, not having anyone else in your family who has gone to college,” Flier said. “Your parents or other family members can’t help you with some of these things, you really have to just pave your own way, which is cool in many aspects, and hard for some people in others. ”

Sara Tajalangit, a first-generation student who attended the event, expressed that events and programs like this one have helped her feel welcome at OSU. Tajalangit is a third-year studying chemistry and psychology, and she just transferred to OSU this term.

“I just want to say I’m really grateful for programs like this,” Tajalangit said. “It’s what makes OSU so welcoming, just one aspect that I really enjoy.”