Celebrating First-Generation Students

First Gen Week Kicks off November 7 

This week, Saint Mary’s celebrates its first-generation students, faculty, and staff through a series of events, timed to coincide with First Generation College Celebration Day on November 8. Christin Kloski ’15, assistant director of the Office for Student Equity, has helped coordinate the week, and plans to engage the more than 400 undergraduate students at the College.

The term “first generation” traditionally describes someone who is the first in their family to pursue a four-year degree at a college or university. In her role, Kloski helps students stay focused by finding the answers to any and all questions, and by bringing them together with peers. First-generation student Thalia Mora ’25 is studying political science and global studies, and is looking forward to the week of events. She is also the president of the First Gen Family, a club on campus that provides a welcoming environment for those who have little to no experience with the college lifestyle. Here is an excerpt from our conversation with Kloski and Mora:

Christin, how has the current first-generation student experience changed from previous generations?
So speaking to my experience as a first-gen student at Saint Mary’s, there really wasn't much conversation about it—even the terminology “first-generation student”. In some ways, that just really made it difficult to try to build connections with other students. Today, this is a point in time that higher education seems to be transitioning, and it’s something that students are willing to talk about. Within my realm here, we have daily conversations about their experiences! They are so willing to share that they don’t know what to do next, and seek support.  

What are some of those experiences?
For all students, going through finals in a college setting for the first time can be tough. As a first-generation student, that can be really hard to translate to parents back home who have never been to college. We see that a lot with our first generation students, that gap. They are trying to communicate with parents who don't really know what's going on in the classroom.

I think people will be surprised to know that the term first generation can mean different things to different people.
So it's interesting, because more than 25% of Saint Mary’s students are traditional first-generation. But we have other students who aren’t technically first gen, but feel similar because they are experiencing college in a new way. They might be the first in their family to go to a women's institution, for example, or be the first in their family to go away to college and live on campus, vs. attending a college nearby and living at home. Maybe they are the first to go to college in the United States. We also have students who are applying to graduate school—many of them the first in their family to do so.

Thalia, what are you hearing from your first-generation peers?
I love showing my pride and encouraging others to be prideful of being first gen because it is such a huge accomplishment.Through First Gen Family, I know of a student whose mother wanted to attend Saint Mary’s, but couldn’t. So this student feels proud to be here, knowing it’s important for her and her mother. I know others are happy to find support through peers and at the College to talk about worries about finances or that they don’t belong. No matter how scary being a first-gen student is, the people at Saint Mary's want to help you succeed and help you celebrate all the successes and hardships that come with being a first generation student. 

Christin, what’s in store for this week as you mark First Gen Week on campus?
I really wanted to focus on going back to the basics—what it's like just to be a student. We want to make sure that our students take care of their mental and physical health. That has to happen before they become successful in academics and beyond. We have these conversations that are so difficult all the time for first-gen students, so we really want to draw back to who these students really are just as a human being just trying to live and breathe every day.

November 7, 2022

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