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First Generation Students are struggling now but surviving with student resources

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November 06, 2020 - 03:51 PM

note of encouragementA First-Generation college student is one who is the first in their immediate family to go to college. Mt. SAC has a lot of them. Nearly half the student population at Mt. SAC is first-generation, and it is for this reason that the school will hold its 2nd annual  week of festivities to honor those students and give them inspiration to persevere to get their degree.

Victor RojasUnfortunately, the pandemic has adversely affected First-Generation students,” explained Victor Rojas, Director of Trio Programs.  According to the “Who We Lost” study conducted on campus, First-Generation students made up 21% of students who withdrew from all classes this Spring semester. 75% shared they have a lower income, 74% feel more socially isolated during the COVID restrictions and  closed campus.”

This is certainly true for student Dani Lima, who was furloughed from her job when lockdown happened and then, recently, laid off. Lims’ first thoughts once heading into lockdown probably reflect a lot of First Gen students’ feelings,

srtudent with mask is depressed“My gut told me, this was it, this is the first step to losing my dreams. I went through the steps of grieving and loss,” she said.

As a coping mechanism, she dove head first into her academic studies.

“Instead of taking a break from school and wait until we can begin in-person classes, I decided to add on an environmental science degree to my plan so I can take those classes while I wait, “said Lima. “Because I was furloughed, I took advantage of that time off and added an additional class to Spring, Summer, and Fall semester, bringing me one semester closer to earning my degree.”

“It is a a beautiful distraction to add more classes,”explained Lima.

Dani is probably not alone in being heavily restricted losing income.  “I considered dropping out again because I couldn’t afford my academic expenses,” she said. “But then I applied to scholarships (something I’ve never done before) and was awarded with four of them. I was also supported so much by an incredible program at school. I forced myself to stay so busy I wouldn’t be able to think about how messed up the world was.”

EFirstGen week 2019ven though it is the time of COVID and almost all learning is being done online, Trio Programs will be celebrating First-Generation Week, but much differently than last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Last year, the week was celebrated by having a week's worth of events that culminated with Reyna Grande coming on to campus and giving a talk.

First gen week2019  t-shirtThis year, it will be highlighted by faculty profiles, links to our First-Generation website, and a virtual background that will be shared for faculty, staff, and administrators to use next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Angie KuniyoshiFirst-Gen  student Angie Kuniyoshi said the lockdown severely restricted her academic studies. “One of my biggest challenges has been having a space of my own (to study). I live in a small apartment, so my younger sister watches  ZOOM in our room, my younger brother has class in the living room, and I stay in the kitchen doing all my work. Everyone passes by to cook, clean, or talk in the kitchen, making it hard for me to stay focused all the time,” she said.

For Lima, diving headlong into her studies and speeding up her education has created its own set of problems that are made by being a First-Generation student

Lima said, “it's been super challenging teaching myself how to learn higher level science in chemistry and biology . Lima’s parents never went past a 5th grade education she said. Add to this, she spent her younger years in the Foster Care system, living in 14 different homes in her life.

“I have to be my own teacher  and rely on myself. Financially unstable during COVID, I have had to buy out-of-date textbooks.” But the numerous resource at Mt. SAC has helped her considerably. Lima seems to feel reasonably confident in her academic success thanks to these resources:Primarily, Mt. Sac’s REACH Program,  Which exists to support foster youth and former  foster youth. REACH has help Lima find and access the resources on campus that she needs, transition to online learning, and has even helped to provide her textbooks ,as well.

REACH students and staffMuch of the success she has had to this point she credits to Reach .  “REACH is always checking in on me and I can reach out to them whenever I need. She also points to the twice-a-month food pantries for helping keep food on the table.  

In addition to coping with all the stress by taking more classes, Lima has been regularly exercising, which she finds a great stress reliever.

On the other hand, Kuniyoshi  began coping with the miserable experience of living under COVID by getting more organized.

“On the first day of school, I made an excel sheet. The sheet includes my assignments, quizzes, and exams with the due dates for all of my classes and a column that checks off if I completed them or not,” explained Kuniyoshi.

Kuyniyoshi also wants incoming students not to despair; but like Lima, she suggests finding and using every resource Mt. Sac has available. “Use every resource  available to you and communicate with your professors. I’ve gone to the writing center so many times to help me with papers, but there are also resources like tutoring, library workshops, the career center, the transfer center, and more. There are so many things on campus that you can use to help make your life as a student easier.

Kuyniyoshi  says these resources are there for First-Gen  students like herself and  indeed they are. The college expects 50% of its students will continue to be First Gen. The college's student services and instructional programs are designed with support structures in place to help these First gen students succeed.

Angie KuniyohiBeing the first in my family to attend college, I was always afraid of asking for help,”said Kuyniyoshi. But when I finally did, everyone accepted me with open arms, so please use those resources to your advantage.”

This advice is echoed by Mt. Sac’s President  & CEO,Dr. William Scroggins who is, himself, First-Gen. In this video, Dr. Scroggins tells his story of going to college - an unfamiliar world that he had very little knowledge of or preparation for before he attended and how the simple act of asking for help got him through college.