Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

First gen gems shine bright celebrating education

Ben Samson
Xong Song Yang (left), Director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, Daniel Lee (middle), religions professor, and Anna Badamo (right), TRIO employee, talk at “First Gen Gems.”

Community, belonging and celebration were at the heart of an event organized by Augustana’s Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity (OSID) and TRIO. On Nov. 8, “First Gen Gems” celebrated National First Generation Day. RaMaya Johnson, senior and OSID student ambassador, was a lead organizer for the event. 

Johnson said she hopes those who attended were able to recognize their accomplishments. For many, this means being the first in their family to attend a four year institution. But for seniors, it means that they are the first in their family to earn their degree. 

“It’s a celebration and also an event to encourage students to keep going. But we also wanted to make it fun and educational and informative,” Johnson said. 

According to the Education Advisory Board, 33% of first generation students drop out in the first three years of college. These barriers first generation students face make it even more important to celebrate them, according to Johnson.

“I think this sense of community and belonging is really necessary,” Johnson said. “It can get hard in college in general for any student, but having those resources and a sense of network for first generation students is necessary because they realize that they’re not alone.”

The second part of the program was a panel discussion of staff who were first generation college students. 

Mark Vincent, professor of psychology, said that while he was in college, there were fewer resources available than there are today. Vincent says the first generation students at Augustana should use the resources available to them to succeed.  

“[When I was a student] we didn’t have the kind of offices … there are today. I did feel like I was on my own … it was a lonely experience,” Vincent said. “Asking for help is a sign of strength. Asking for help doesn’t show you’re not good enough.”

Some resources available to students through offices like OSID and TRIO include workshops to learn about applying for scholarships, understanding their financial aid letters and waiving application fees for graduate school. However, sophomore transfer student Janet Lopez said that seeing another first gen student succeed can be just as impactful. 

“You see … people you can look up to, and it’s like ‘I know it’s a struggle right now, but I can accomplish things,’” Lopez said. “We have to make our parents proud. We have to make our families proud. But most importantly, we need to make ourselves proud. That’s what is so important about this event. They put your name up on the wall and they make you feel proud.”

Johnson said that in the future, she hopes Augustana continues to host events for first generation students, but the school does have areas it can improve upon. For example, Augustana could create a peer mentor program where younger first generation students are paired with older first generation students. 

For now, Johnson says hosting events like this is a step in the right direction.

“We call them ‘First Gen Gems’ because they’re special, and the process of making a gem, they start off as coal, and it’s a long process,” Johnson said. “At the end, they’re beautiful, and it’s something worthy of showcasing, and so I think a sense of community is definitely necessary on college campuses.”

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