Finding the right direction: Reflections from a First-Generation College Student

Finding the right direction: Reflections from a First-Generation College Student

By: Brittney Payette

Nov. 8 was national first-generation college celebration (FGCC) day. The day is an annual celebration that was created to commemorate the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-Generation Student Success launch the FGCC in 2017 in order to help encourage a national narrative on the first-generation college student experience. 

As a first-generation college student, it definitely caused me to do some self-reflection about how far I have come. 

I actually started at Cameron as a concurrent student in Fall 2019. I remember being so excited to be accepted into Cameron and nervous on my first day. I was anxious about what the other students would say since I was both a first-generation college student and because I was still in high school. 

I was worried that I would not feel like I belonged. Thankfully, everyone was nice and accepting. My first semester as a concurrent student I took American Federal Government and General Psychology, which I really enjoyed. I loved the discourse that I was able to have in my college classes that I did not get as much in high school. I felt like I learned so much in that first semester. 

Being a first-generation college student had its difficulties. I was unsure what to expect from college, and sometimes found myself confused on who to ask if I had questions. There were so many offices and departments, which sometimes made knowing where to go for specific questions confusing. 

Thankfully, I joined student support services (SSS), which I was eligible for because of my status as a first-generation college student and because I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree. They guided me on my collegiate journey and helped create the foundations for understanding how to navigate Cameron. My freshman year, I especially received help from the SSS Freshman Guidance Specialist Cathleen Dutton, who met with me and answered some of my many questions. 

Another thing that really helped me was being a Presidential Leader and University Scholar (PLUS) recipient. As a PLUS member, we had an Intro to University Life class that we took our Freshman year, which was beneficial because it taught me more about how to better transition into college from high school. I also think that taking classes as a concurrent student made the transition easier because I had taken some classes at Cameron while I was still in high school, so the coursework was not a huge shock to me when I became a full-time college student after graduating from high school. 

However, my freshman year was in for a huge upset because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, my classes were over Zoom and all of my assignments were online. Out of nowhere, my professors had to scramble to get all of the assignments online, and I had to learn how to use Blackboard to a degree that I had not had to do before. 

It was a huge shock. I had expected to go maybe a week or so online and then go back to in-person classes. That, however, was not what happened. We did not return to in-person classes that semester. I had to learn how to be flexible and keep pushing forward despite the multitude of changes the pandemic engendered for people globally. 

I do have some advice for my fellow first-generation students. Try to join organizations- they can really help steer you in the right direction and answer many of the questions that you may have. SSS is a great organization to join because they have so many resources available, including advisors who are just for SSS members, math and writing labs solely for SSS members, equipment for students to check out, scholarships and more.

Clubs are great to join as well, and there are lots of those to join here at Cameron. There really is something for everyone. I strongly advocate for participation in college even outside the classroom. When you become part of a club or organization, you get to meet new people and have novel experiences that will help mold you. 

I know that it can be daunting to get involved in a new organization as a new member, but finding the place you feel like you belong is priceless. For me, that is the Collegian. There are numerous clubs to join on campus, so look for what you are passionate about or what sounds interesting to you. I sincerely believe that students will have a lot to gain from becoming more active on campus. 

I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors and I congratulate my first-generation peers on their successes. College is an investment in your future and I believe all of the things you gain from attending makes the struggles you go through worth it. College gives you indelible experiences that will change you perpetually. Learn from your mistakes and keep persevering.     

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