The Student Success Center celebrates National First-Generation College Day on Nov. 8. First-generation students gathered for a photo by Pepperdine’s painted rock in Adamson Plaza wearing their #FirstTogether T-shirts. Photo courtesy of Joanna Ramos
While pioneering the college experience in their families and pursuing an undergraduate degree, first-generation students said they navigate many unknowns during their time in college.
As a first-generation student, sophomore Nicolette Garcia said her family members are her biggest supporters, and they take pride in seeing how far she has come. Garcia said the first time she brought her grandmother to see Pepperdine is a moment she will never forget.
“I got to show my grandma the Pepperdine campus this summer, which was very special because she’s been through Malibu before but had never really seen it,” Garcia said. “I knew that she was really proud to be able to tell her friends and family, ‘This is where Nicolette is studying.’”
Marquette University defines first-generation students as those whose parents have not graduated from a four-year collegiate institution. First-generation students comprise 18% of the Pepperdine Seaver population, according to Pepperdine’s website. Kambria Salido is the co-president of the Pepperdine First-Gen Club, a community-based organization that represents first-generation college students and provides them with events and activities.
“We’re alone,” Salido said. “We’re like trailblazers on our own trying to find ourselves and constantly learn how to navigate through life, also trying to survive college and do our best.”
The families — including parents, siblings and extended family of first-generation students play an integral role in their college experience. For senior Ashlee Quick, her mother and grandparents are her main supporters, she said.
“They’re just overall excited because this is their experience too,” Quick said. “They live through you and get to see your accomplishments and get to see you do all these things. It’s just as important for them. I appreciate all their help.”
Garcia’s parents, as well as her aunts and uncles, attended the same community college in Cypress, Calif. Although her parents did not graduate, Garcia said she wanted to continue the family legacy and attended Cypress Community College before transferring to Pepperdine.
She said her goal is to make her family proud as she pursues her degree in International Studies and Political Science while traveling abroad for her academics. While studying in London over the summer, Garcia discovered her love for travel, and she hopes to attend the Washington D.C program in the future.
“A goal that a lot of my family has had in mind is that we want the next generation to do even bigger and better things,” Garcia said. “The fact that I am able to see it so clearly and what I’m doing along my academic journey, it really feels like it’s a big payoff.”
Junior Andrew Crandall said he strives to make both his family and himself proud. Coming from an Asian minority and a first-generation household, Crandall said he understands the weight of attending college.
“Leaving home was a big deal,” Crandall said. “Being the first-gen and leaving for college is one of those giant things for minority families.”
Garcia, Salido and Quick all said they are the eldest of their siblings. As the first to go to college among their brothers and sisters, they said they hope to provide support and guidance for their younger siblings when they eventually undergo the college process.
“I’ve experienced going through the APs, and the SATs and junior year, and I’ve seen the aftermath of the great achievements, which can lead to that I’m able to give her [Garcia’s sister] some tips and tricks,” Garcia said.
Quick said applying for college is a difficult process for both the student and family, and for her, that involved confusion and plenty of Google searches. Quick chose Pepperdine because of the resources they provided her and the Pepperdine Summer Preview program she attended as a prospective student.
“They brought about 20 kids into Pepperdine, and we got to stay for a weekend, meet other first-generation college students, kind of get that first feel of how it would be on campus as well as resources to help us apply to universities,” Quick said. “That’s something that I wasn’t offered by other universities.”
Aside from the struggle of applying to college, Daniela Sandoval, treasurer of the First-Gen Club, said there are disadvantages of being a first-generation student navigating college life. Sandoval said she struggled with moving in, knowing what classes to take and adjusting to on-campus life when she first started college.
“We just kind of get here and figure it out on our own or try to seek help,” Sandoval said. “Sometimes seeking help is hard because we don’t know where to go.”
Many first-generation students face issues regarding lack of financial direction, Sandoval said. She previously did not know about loans and said she struggled to find resources to succeed financially and academically.
“We’re not educated on that topic in regards to loans, as well as where to even research, or scholarships, or how to even get in touch with professors or even talk to individuals that could possibly help connect you with other internships or resources for you to be successful in your career,” Sandoval said
Pepperdine offers certain resources geared toward first-generation students, including their website’s listing of scholarship opportunities such as the “I’m First” scholarship. Outside of scholarships, Pepperdine has two main organizations to help first-generation students find community and connections for their success — the First Wave Program and the First-Gen Club. As a member of the First-Gen Club, Sandoval said the club’s goals are to connect with students, get them involved and create a comfortable place with people who understand the struggles of being a first-generation student.
“We’re planning to hold events that will encourage a community on campus and make those first-gen students feel like they belong to Pepperdine,” Salido said.
Looking ahead, Salido said First-Gen Club plans to have events such as informational workshops and game nights to encourage community building. Although the club has yet to finalize a meeting place, they arranged their first event to kick off the semester.
“We are planning on having our first meeting about impostor syndrome and how to cope with that,” Salido said.
Salido and Sandoval said imposter syndrome is a prominent issue that many first-generation students face when comparing themselves to other students.
“For example, you enter a room and you just look around. You see everyone succeeding or everyone just talking, looking like they belong,” Sandoval said. “Then you look at yourself, and you’re like, ‘I don’t belong here. This isn’t where I should be. I’m not worthy.’”
Even though Sandoval said she struggles with imposter syndrome herself, she said she also understands the positives of being first-generation.
“We get to decide for ourselves how we want our college experience to look,” Sandoval said. “I think that’s one of the positive outlooks that I think of. I get to control my life, I get to control how many credits I take, I get to double major. It’s my choice; it’s my journey, and I get to define what that looks like.”
When providing advice for first-generation students, Crandall said he emphasizes the importance of branching out to build community and creating connections even if it’s with dorm mates or classmates.
“When it comes to college, I know everyone’s independent for the first time and all that stuff, but the best thing you can do for yourself is just go out there,” Crandall said. “Go meet people. Just say ‘hi.'”
Salido said she agrees that finding community is important to combat feelings of loneliness as a first-generation student by pursuing activities and organizations that spark passions and interests.
“Try and find what you are interested in,” Salido said. “Don’t try to do things just for a resume. Do something that you feel like you would be interested in doing, whether it’s an industry or a job. Find something that will tie to your personal interests.”
Follow the Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic
Contact Jackie Lopez via email: email@example.com