Celebrating First-Generation College Student Week

November 8, 2021

By RCAH Communications

November 8-12, 2021 is First-Generation Week, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of people who were the first in their immediate families to attend college. Michigan State University recently earned the First Generation-Forward Designation .

Chrystel Lopez, a senior communications intern and dual major in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and Journalism, shared her thoughts about being a First-Gen student, and spoke with RCAH students, faculty, and staff about their lived experience.

Alyssa Briones, RCAH senior from Lansing, Michigan

“Initially, I didn’t want to go to college, seeing that my non-degreed parents were doing well. I’m thankful for the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions [OCAT] for giving first-gen students like me tools to give back to the community and embrace themselves. While education is important, being a first-gen student made me realize that my journey through life is what matters most.”

Dr. Kevin Brooks, RCAH Academic Specialist for Diversity and Civic Engagement

“I’m grateful for the Black women in my life who had a vision for me when I didn’t have one for myself. My mentors, faculty/staff, and friends established a supportive community ensuring my success. I’m committed to civic and community engagement and building meaningful relationships and working toward transforming humanity.”

Dr. Tama Hamilton-Wray, RCAH Associate Professor

“Attending and completing college is both a privilege and a responsibility. In some ways, my family came to college with me. As my world grew, so did theirs. Over the course of my career, I’ve tried to make room for underrepresented populations and demystify this thing called ‘college.’”

Chrystel Lopez, RCAH senior from Novi, Michigan

“Being a first generation college student made navigating my life in university and beyond pretty tough . When it came to SATs, applications, financial aid, scholarships, you name it, I was pretty much on my own. But when I eventually made it to MSU and RCAH after figuring stuff out by myself, I felt proud. I found resources in the college from advisors, mentors, and certain programs, to lead me to success.”

Sahar Mahmood, RCAH Student Affairs Coordinator

“As a first-generation college student, I always felt like there was so much I missed out on from information to experience and everything in-between. That’s why I’m passionate about working with students. I can help fill in those missing pieces for other students because our experiences may be different but the feelings are similar.”

Jo Troxell, RCAH sophomore from Wilson, Michigan

“As a first-generation student, finding a way to attend college was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I have always been passionate about my education and pursuing it further, but no one in my family has done that, so it was very discouraging and almost seemed unrealistic. I decided to break that cycle and do everything I can to get to college, and now I am here!”

Amber Waldburger, RCAH senior and Executive Staff Assistant to the Dean

“​​Being a first-gen college student presents many unexpected hurdles, or at least that has been my experience. Navigating complex administrative systems and feeling supported when higher education is not a priority (even to your own parents) makes it hard to stay committed, especially when the everyday stresses of life come at you—one of the many reasons it’s taken me 21 years to get to my senior year. On the flip side, there is an incredible sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that I (eventually) overcame those hurdles and demonstrated to my own children that it can be done, that it is important, and that it’s okay to break through traditional barriers if what you want is on the other side.”