First Generation Students Speak About Their Experiences

Brandon Tran, a first generation student, sticks a Post-it note to a wall stating why being a first generation student is important to him as part of the First Gen Hog event Nov. 8.

New Student and Family Programs officials sponsored an event Nov. 8, National First Generation Day, where first-generation college students had the opportunity to learn about resources, including scholarships. 

Salma Alonso, a junior, attended the “First Gen Hog” event Friday to speak about her experiences growing up as a first-generation college student. 

Alonso said she was fortunate to grow up near the UofA in Fayetteville, which reminded her that attending a university was possible for her, despite the challenges she faced. 

“It’s just something that seemed within reach,” Alonso said. “Then I started to think about the financial cost of higher education. I felt very overwhelmed by the FAFSA and financial aid. I didn’t know what credit hours were.”

Alonso thinks the most important part of being a college student is the ability for her to make more money in the future so she can give back to her parents, she said.

“For a lot of us first gen, our parents are super important to us, and the sacrifices they made. We want to make sure we can give back to them,” Alonso said.

Larry Cloud, the associate director of New Student and Family Programs, helped organize the event, the second celebration since their first celebration in 2018, Cloud said.

The Council for Opportunity in Education began recognizing National First-Generation College Celebration Day in 2017. Nov. 8 is the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created federal grants and loan programs for students finance their educations. 

Cloud recognizes the need for first generation students to have resources because they sometimes lack parents who have college experience, he said.

“I think there are a lot of resources on campus for different populations,” Cloud said. “For first-gen students, there is not as many, and so I think a big part of it is to show the first-gen students that there are other first-gen students here.”

Manuel Serna-Aguilera, a senior who attended the event, said he thinks it is important to set an example for other first generation college students, and show them that achieving a higher education is possible. 

Serna-Aguilera said he thinks he had to work harder than other college students because he was unaware of resources for graduate school, and he had to seek those assets out.

“I just didn’t know a whole lot of things as compared to people whose parents have gone on to college and were more aware of these kinds of things, so that barrier of entry is significantly higher,” he said.

Zachery Sutherland is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where he has been a staff reporter since February 2019.

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