Photo by Craig Fry
“Our goal for the First-Gen Celebration is to make our resources and activities more approachable and welcoming to the 60 percent of students on our campus who identify as First-Gen,” said Laura Shepherd, academic success advisor for the TRIO-KEYS Program at Arizona Western College.
First-Generation means students whose parents did not finish a bachelor’s degree or higher. AWC provides a place to support the First Gen students to guide them in how the college works, to support and mentor them so they will be better oriented for the future, and to help them become a role model for their families.
The 3rd Annual National First-Generation Celebration Proclamation, held Nov. 6 in the walkway of the 3C building on the AWC Yuma campus, was organized by KEYS Program staff. The formal Proclamation was read by Bryan Doak, vice president for Student Services, and various students and alumni shared their experiences of being first-generation students. Many of students who attended participated in the raffle to win an Instax Camera.
The event was held simultaneously with the annual Chili Cook-Off, hosted by the Alumni Association, and the Golf Car Parade, organized by Campus Life, this year with a Disney theme.
“My first year was difficult just because I did not have anybody in my family to help me navigate, like how to choose my courses and how to pay for them,” said Alison Dougherty.
TRIO is a federally funded program that has been around for over 25 years at AWC, now directed by Michelle Thomas with the assistance of Shepherd. Thomas supports programs such as Talent Search and Upward Bound, and she works with First-Gen low-income college students.
“Thanks to NASPA [National Association of Student Personnel Administrators], for the past three years we have started to recognize and celebrate the First-Generation students nationally,” Thomas said.
“Now that my oldest son is in college, he can help his siblings when they get into college or mentoring them on what is best for them in choosing classes,” said Mayra Arvizu.
Recognizing first-generation students is a huge part of AWC because it can persuade people to continue with their education and create a better future.
“Being a First-Generation college student for me was challenging because, at first, I was not familiar with how college work, and I did not know what courses I was supposed to choose,” Brenda Alvarez said.
Now she knows.