By Meahgan Larkins
Josiah Martin never really considered college. The freshman from New Mexico is from a family where no one else went to college. So, when God told him to come to Trevecca, he said it was a difficult transition.
Alex Webster and Fatima Vargas have started a club for first-generation students. This is one of the new resources this year at Trevecca.
Another program that was started this year by Dr. Mark Bowles to help these students is the Generations Mentor Program. It pairs new first-generation students with a one-on-one peer mentor, who is also a first-generation student. Bowles stated, “We are providing support based on relationships.” The GMP program provides two events a month, one social event and one training session.
“There is pride that comes with it, but it is very difficult and disorienting. It makes you feel like a pioneer treading new water,” Martin said.
Martin is one of the 60% of freshmen students who are first-generation college students at Trevecca. First generation is defined as “neither parent nor legal guardian has completed a bachelor’s degree,” according to Dr. Bowles.
Students who come from families with no college experience face challenges such as no or very little support at home with financial aid, scheduling classes, or knowledge of living in a dorm, said Dr. Bowles.
The new club, started by Alex Webster and Fatima Vargas, is a direct response to the challenges they faced when they got to campus.
Michelle Gaertner, associate dean of student success at Trevecca, is a first-generation student and is very proud of her accomplishment, even though her family did not understand either. Her family was encouraging, but she had to teach them what college meant.
Since Gaertner is a first-generation student who graduated from college and received a Master’s degree, she is able to help many students be successful in college because she understands their college experience.
Alex Webster is a junior at Trevecca and is a first-generation student. Some of the challenges he faced in college were, “not really knowing what to expect or the resources, or who to talk to, and to find someone who shared similar experiences and an idea of what to expect.” He wants to be a doctor and go into medicine. That is the driving force that keeps him going.
“I have had several people around me to give me good advice, not really one specific person,” said Webster.
Another international first-generation student from Honduras is junior Gigi Jerezano.
“My parents worked so hard. I feel a lot of pressure sometimes because they are investing so much in this, so I want to do the best I can,” said Jerezano.
One of her biggest challenges is communicating with Americans and their different slang and the way they express themselves. Getting out of your comfort zone, getting involved on campus, and having relationships with other international students are tips that she would give other first-generation students. Words of encouragement help too.
“You do not have to have it all figured out as a freshman,” said Jerezano.
Transfer student, junior Fatima Vargas, is a first-generation student who commutes from home.
“I feel very happy just to know that I’m kind of the first one to go to college. My family motivates me. I come every day. I stay happy and motivated,” said Vargas.
Even though she started out at a community college, her first day at Trevecca was overwhelming. Her advice for something new at freshman orientation would be to provide a person to answer any questions, or even someone to vent with and provide emotional support.
“Seeing my family even when I felt like giving up and that God has given me the strength to continue, those are my biggest motivations in life,” said Vargas.
Many of the first-generation students have been lonely and overwhelmed with being on a college campus away from family. Professor Joshua Smith, an assistant professor of economics, was also a first-generation student.
“Starting college is like a fire hydrant, or drinking from a fire hose,” said Smith.
Many times, they must find their way, but encouragement from others and building relationships go a long way to support these students. There may be a knowledge and experience gap when they first start, but if they continue their college career, it can be so rewarding, and they can help other first-generation students in the future, said Smith.