FIRST GEN Alumni Panel Discussion

FIRST GEN is a group of CH alumni dedicated to supporting current CH Juniors and Seniors who will be the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university. This group, started by CH alumni who are also the first in their family to attend college, serves to mentor current first generation college students and provide insight and support to students and their families.
FIRST GEN held their inaugural Alumni Panel on February 25, 2021 where they addressed a host of questions that are unique to the first-generation college experience with thoughtful, personal responses. When asked what advice they would have given themselves on the first day of school, one alumna shared that she began college feeling intense pressure to be successful. She soon realized, “You don’t have to be perfect just because you’re first gen” and that self-doubts were misplaced because, “you’re worthy, and you don’t have to prove that to literally anyone….You being here means you are worthy of this and more.” Another alumni recommended that they give themselves a concrete schedule to stay grounded and on track. All of them stressed the importance of making connections. The group named organizations such as multicultural Greek life, interest clubs, and organized sports teams as important ways to make friends and receive peer mentorship. Said one alumna of her experience joining a cultural interest organization, “It helped me adjust a lot… even though it wasn’t a study-based club, we would have study nights or just meet up to eat. It was a support system outside of the classes… and having people around me like that really helped me.” The importance of building relationships with professors was also highlighted when one alumna shared that she is still in contact with a teacher from her first semester and knows that, “whenever I need her, I can go to her.”

When reflecting on what they would have done differently in high school, one alumna responded, “I wish I had developed the healthy habit of going in to talk to teachers more.” She explained that it would have helped her more in college by making that process less intimidating. Another talked about the pressures of the college selection process. She advised: “A college doesn’t define you - at the end of the day, choose what school you want to attend based on you, not on other pressures.” Another expressed his wish that he had been more open to applying to more schools and not let the distance from home “get to me that much.”

Although there are challenges with being a first generation college student, the alumni agreed they feel a tremendous sense of empowerment. One expressed confidence in “gaining a sense of independence” while another named the pride that comes with knowing they are “a catalyst in my family [who will] transcend barriers that were put upon the people before me.” An alumna named the importance of viewing her identity and experiences “not as a weakness because it’s a strength.” Another alumnus expressed how thinking of the sacrifices of family members and the difference of circumstances from one generation to the next makes him think “of the position that I’m in right now and to see how far we’ve come. It’s really empowering and it makes me take a step back… it really helps me to put everything in perspective and appreciate what I am doing.”

Associate Director of College Counseling Kimberly Oden, a first-generation graduate herself, ended the program by giving an overview of the college application process as well as highlighting some of the many resources that Campbell Hall provides.

The evening was a wonderful way for this newly established group to lay the foundation for building relationships with younger CH First Gen students. As Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (7-12), first-generation graduate, and moderator of the event Stephanie Carrillo noted, these alumni are reaching back to help the next generation of college-going students -- and creating that sense of connection and web of support is what an affinity space is all about.

To get involved with FIRST GEN, please email

Special thanks to FIRST GEN CH alumni panelists Omar Arzate ’18, Jackie Bravo-Suarez ’18, Sophia Castaneda ’18, and Barbara Villasenor ’19.
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