Carolina undergraduate and graduate students recently came together for programming and connecting at the National First-Generation College Celebration.
The early November day was chilly, but the enthusiasm added tremendous warmth as first-generation undergraduate and graduate students gathered in the Pit for pizza, photos, cake and conversation.
The Nov. 8 event was one of several ways UNC-Chapel Hill joined in the 2019 National First-Generation College Celebration, an initiative of the Center for First-generation Student Success and the Council for Opportunity in Education. Earlier in 2019, the center announced that UNC-Chapel Hill had been named a “First Forward Advisory Institution,” among the inaugural cohort of academic institutions nationwide recognized for their commitment to supporting first-generation success.
“I am exceptionally proud of the fact that UNC-Chapel Hill has Carolina Firsts for undergraduates and Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS for graduate and professional students,” said Maria Erb, co-director of The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success (DSS) program. “We are one of the very few higher education institutions in the country to have a formal program that recognizes and encourages the success of both populations.”
A kickoff “Home for the Holidays” event on Nov. 7 featured a discussion about how first-generation students can navigate discussions and dynamics when returning home, or what it’s like if they are not able to go home. Erinn Scott and Malini Basdeo, facilitators of the Counseling and Psychological Services’ First in the Family group, led the discussion. A screening of the documentary “Unlikely,” followed by a discussion led by Carolina Firsts and Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS student leaders, on Nov. 8 concluded the activities.
Carolina Firsts was created in 2008 with support from the Office of Undergraduate Education, within the College of Arts & Sciences, and New Student & Family Programs, within UNC Student Affairs, to create a sense of community for first-generation college students. Carolina Firsts programs support students through signature events such as a welcome back reception and a graduation recognition and pinning ceremony, as well as individual student success consultations.
Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS began as the idea of three graduate students within the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and it was incorporated into DSS during the 2016-2017 academic year. Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS offers a wide variety of activities and networking opportunities for graduate students campus-wide.
“It is important that undergraduate and graduate student ‘firsts’ are visible on campus because it demonstrates the diversity of the student body on campus and their unique lived experiences,” said Carmen Gonzalez, director of the Lookout Scholars Program, which supports incoming first-generation college students.
“It is also important for our undergraduate Carolina Firsts to see students like themselves pursuing graduate degrees; I hope in turn that graduate students see the impact they have as mentors who have knowledge and experience to share with undergraduate Carolina Firsts.”
Viviana Gonzalez is president of the Carolina Firsts undergraduate student organization. She said during the two-day celebration students had a chance to engage in meaningful activities and interact with new peers “as they discovered they are not alone on Carolina’s campus.”
“Celebrating National First-Generation College Day at Carolina in conjunction with Carolina F1rsts graduate students, CUAB and Student Life & Leadership was especially meaningful not only to me as a student but to our institution as this event voices our collegiate unity as we embrace and honor our identity,” she said.