Incoming, current first-generation students stand side-by-side

Sandra Torres

Heading to college is already a difficult change, but first-generation students face a bigger challenge: a lack of college experience from their parents. 

To ease that transition, New Student Services has introduced a First-Generation Student Welcome session for these students, who make up more than 20% of undergraduates. This session connects first-generation students with orientation advisers who can help them navigate their first days on the Forty Acres.

Social work junior Jerri Garcia was a panelist at the first session. He said being a panelist helped him connect with students as an orientation adviser, and he would have liked to have had these resources as an incoming freshman.

“I can understand (their) frustration and anxiety,” Garcia said. “I went through that. (Having this session as a freshman) would’ve probably given me an insight on what to expect, just because I was first-gen, (and) I didn’t know what to jump into.” 

Incoming psychology freshman Emily Gomez said as a first-generation student, it is tough being the first to leave home. Gomez said the panel reassured her with the knowledge that she wasn’t alone.

“People are in the same place as us,” Gomez said. “I feel a lot better about coming onto campus.”

First-generation students at UT can find current and newly implemented resources beneficial, Garcia said. 

“(The session) prepares the future first-gen (students),” Garcia said. “It made me really happy that we incorporated the first-gen session. I knew it would benefit them in a great way.” 

Kayleigh Damphousse, First-Generation Student Welcome facilitator, said the University reached out to incoming freshmen ahead of orientation to make sure they were aware of the new program.

“We reach out to the students before orientation starts, (and) we talk about how important UT finds our first-generation students,” Damphousse said. 

Celena Mondie-Milner, New Student Services executive director and First-Generation Commitment Working Group co-chair, said first-generation students are being equipped early in orientation for their career launch on the Forty Acres.

“We want our incoming first-generation students to know about those programs and participate in those things the incoming semester,” Mondie-Milner said. 

Mondie-Milner said incoming first-generation students are encouraged during orientation to download apps that will help them navigate the sessions and share campus resources. The apps also keep students in the loop with upcoming first-generation events hosted on campus during the school year.

“It’s really good to have our first-generation (session) because it creates a community environment,” Mondie-Milner said.

Now that he is away from his parents, Garcia said he turns to his first-gen friends for support because they are a community that is there for him.  

“Ask all the questions that you have,” Garcia said. “Don’t feel like you’re disturbing someone.”

Gomez said she is grateful to know she is entering a community that will have her back.

“It’s going to be a motivation for my younger siblings,” Gomez said. “I know it’s going to be hard and challenging, but we got here somehow.”