The McNair Scholars program hosted First-Generation Student Day on Monday, Nov. 8 to celebrate the experiences and presence of first-generation students, faculty and staff at Northern Michigan University.
The celebration kicked off at 5 p.m. at the Wildcat Statue outside of Jamrich Hall and was followed by a reception on the second floor of the Hedgcock Building.
Diana Antonio, senior biochemistry and Spanish major, attended the event to meet other first-generation students who may share the same challenges.
“I hope to connect with other students who may be going through or have gone through the same things,” Antonio said. “I don’t connect with other students as much since most of my friends are from my research lab or my classes, so I think it would be great to connect with other students from other majors.”
Haley Rhoades, assistant dean of students at NMU, was an organizer of the event who wanted to give students a chance to connect with others on campus.
“[This is] an opportunity to meet other first-generation college students as well as interact with faculty and staff who are either first-generation graduates or strong supporters of the first-gen students at NMU,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades said a challenge she often sees in one-on-one services she hosts with first-generation students, is that most do not have the guidance of their parents.
“First-generation college students are usually navigating the college enrollment and completion process without the experience of their parents,” Rhoades said. “Many times their parents don’t know how or when to complete the FAFSA.”
Rhoades said another challenge she helps coach first-generation students through is balancing work and school as many first-gen students are supporting themselves throughout college.
“Many times first-gen students work a part-time job or a full-time job while going to school and prioritize work over school,” Rhoades said.
First-generation students make up nearly one in every three college students at NMU and over 2,600 first-generation students applied for fall classes this semester said, Rhoades.
“This is a remarkable number of students who make up a significant portion of our student population,” she commented.
Antonio said an obstacle she faced as a first-generation college student was not knowing what resources were available to her as a student at NMU.
“It’s important to acknowledge that some students at NMU are working through school without any knowledge of the resources they can access,” Antonio said. “Many students who are first-gen have to figure out the system on their own.”
Antonio said she was able to learn more about the resources available on campus through her involvement at NMU as co-president of the Latinx Student Union, secretary of the Mortar Board Honor Society, student researcher in the neuromuscular research lab, member of the McNair Scholars program and the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP).
“The SLFP is set up as a two-year program. In the first year, you get to meet a lot of students who are like-minded individuals as you, and you get paired up with a community member mentor,” Antonio said. “My mentor was a resident at the UP Health Systems, so that helped me connect with other doctors in the field and allowed me to shadow throughout the year.”
The McNair Scholars Program at NMU provides first-generation undergraduate students with resources, experiences and opportunities to ease the transition into graduate school.
According to the program’s website, students who join the program have the chance to intern in faculty-guided research, attend workshops and seminars and visit graduate schools.
A piece of advice Antonio has for other first-generation students is to find professors that can help them throughout their time as a student at NMU.
“Find a professor that you can really connect to or feel like you can ask questions. Reach out to them, because they probably know resources at the library, can help when it comes to buying and renting books and can help you find research opportunities,” Antonio said.
Rhoades said any staff member in the Dean of Students Office is willing to help first-generation students who are looking for resources.
“When you need help, just stop in the Dean of Students Office and say ‘I’m first-gen and I have some questions,’” said Rhoades.