Student Leaders Launch Organization for First-Generation Students
The First-Generation Student Association is a new recognized student organization at the University that aims to foster community, connection, and offer support to students who are the first in their family to go to college.
December 3, 2021
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
For Kelechi Kenneth-Gabriel ’23, applying to college was challenging. As the first person in her family to go to college, she found that visiting schools, knowing the right questions to ask, and understanding financial aid packages were challenges she had to figure out on her own. She used Google to help her navigate each section of the FAFSA.
When she enrolled at the University of New Haven, Kenneth-Gabriel faced new challenges, such as learning how to get involved on campus and choosing a major. Eager to help connect with and offer support to her fellow first-generation students, she helped start the University’s new First-Generation Student Association, and she now serves as its treasurer.
“The organization creates a space for first-gen students to connect with each other,” explains Kenneth-Gabriel, a criminal justice major. “It helps them realize they are not alone and that they have a community that understands their struggles.”
The First-Generation Student Association is now officially a recognized student organization (RSO) at the University. It is open to all students, including students who are not the first in their family to go to college.
Mya Oliwa ’23 serves as president of the organization. She says she often turned to her fellow first-generation students with questions, since no one else in her family had college experience that they could share with her. She hopes to extend that support to other first-generation students at the University.
“My goal, especially with the First-Generation Student Association, is for all students to feel even more welcomed and engaged at the University,” said Oliwa, a criminal justice major. “I want to help them get answers to the unknown. This is also a great way to build connections, and I look forward to offering events such as game nights, social nights, and excursions off campus.”
‘I hope this RSO will serve as a guiding hand’
Approximately 40 percent of students at the University are the first in their family to go to college. The University has hosted events for first-generation students, including a recent celebration designed to connect first-generation students, faculty, and staff. It was held as part of the University’s commemoration of First-Generation Celebration Day, which was created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-Generation of Success.
Elizabeth Hall ’24, who co-founded the First-Generation Student Association with Oliwa, looks forward to offering more opportunities for first-generation students through the organization. She serves as its vice president.
“This RSO is critical to the University because there are countless first-generation students in need of support,” said Hall, a psychology major. “Students may feel lost, confused, and not know where to start to create a successful future. I hope this RSO will serve as a guiding hand to them, making them excited for their future.”
‘It includes a subculture of students’
The group, which meets every Thursday evening, will offer fun events to help students get to know each other. It will also offer workshops to help students learn important skills, such as interviewing, resume writing, and stress management.
Izabella Mancini ’24, a psychology major and executive assistant for the organization, is looking forward to fostering a sense of community through the RSO.
“Being a first-generation student is much like being thrown into a crowd of people where you don’t know what to do first or who to talk to,” she said. “I hope the organization brings together all first-generation students in a fun and productive way. I also hope it helps make the University even more inclusive and that it becomes a home and a safe place for first-generation students where they can get help and voice their opinions.”
Kenneth-Gabriel, the group’s treasurer, has learned even more about navigating the college application process, as well as life as a college student. She’s excited to offer her support to her fellow students, both at the University and back home.
“The First-Generation Student Association is important to have at the University because it includes a subculture of students who sometimes feel like they are not seen or supported in the way they wish to be,” she said. “Now that my sister is in her senior year of high school, I recognize that I am the blueprint for her. I am the one she relies on when she needs help.”