Voices of First-Generation College Students

With the school year in full swing, students all over the state are back in classrooms, including first-generation college students.  First-generation college students are those whose parents did not attend a college or university. We sat down with local first-generation students to gain an understanding of what it’s like to be the first in their families to attend college.  

Steven Morales, a recent graduate of York Technical College, explains that when he first started college courses, he didn’t exactly have a plan; he had no guidance.  After visiting the career counseling services, two different majors of study were recommended, and he chose the one that fit him best. “I figured with tele-production, I figured I’d be more hands-on, I’d be more left to my own devices, which is something I really wanted to do,” shares Morales.

The emphasis on guidance for first-generation college students is something that Janell Stevens knows all too well.  She works as the Assistant Director of TRiO at Winthrop University. Stevens explains, “TRiO is a federally funded program. It’s funded by the Department of Education.  We get a chunk of money to serve first-generation low-income and disabled students.” Stevens was a first-generation college student herself. She believes that this gives her a platform to help students further. “I can use my mistakes and my experiences to help my students,” says Stevens.

Another local first-generation college student shares her experiences as an undergrad at Winthrop University.  Kalea Young-Gibson currently studies psychology and political science. She acknowledges that lack of guidance is the difference between first-generation students and others. Young-Gibson explains, “when you have a first-generation college student, it’s kind of like they and their parents are their support system. They’re trying to figure it out together.”  

Ultimately, both students agree that college is the route they want to take for themselves.  Morales believes that his education gives him a “safety net,” while Young-Gibson explains that from a young age, she knew going to college was her plan. “I knew that if I wanted to live comfortably and be able to help my family and support, you know, both financially, emotionally and what have you, I would need to go to college.” With local programs like TRiO, and University Career Counseling Services supporting first-generation college students.  They are better prepared now, more than ever, to take on each school year with a greater sense of belonging.