It’s your first day at your university. You’ve been awaiting this day for as long as you could remember after all no one in your family has been able to have the opportunities that you have. You’ve spent all day setting up your room just the way you want and getting to know your new roommate. You’re about to take a nice hot shower but realized you didn’t buy a robe, so naturally, you wear your clothes to the stall and throw them on the ground in a place you THINK they won’t get wet. Unfortunately for you, they got very wet. You then in that same moment realize that you also didn’t bring a towel with you. You quickly put the soaking clothes back on and RUN back into your room. If only someone had been there to give you advice.
According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, in the academic year of 2015-2016, 56% of undergraduates nationally were first-generation college students. On top of this 59% of these first-generation college students are also the first sibling to go to college. Over the past 6 years though it’s estimated that the number of first-generation college students went from 56% to a whopping 31%.
With these statistics comes the need in most Universities to form communities and support systems for first-generation college students. Feeling like you’re 10 steps behind your peers can feel really intimidating, especially when you feel like you don’t have anyone to turn to when the pressure is on.
Ace Scholars, an organization located at the University of Evansville, is made up of first-generation college students with the intent to help other incoming first-generation college students out through mentorship here at the University of Evansville. They host study sessions, game nights, and even open panels to learn more about one another.
“When coming to college I knew pretty much nothing.” said Trinitie Terrel, “I did not know classes, credits, applications, payments, or how anything worked.” Trinitie Terrel is a first-year college student who is a sophomore at the University of Evansville. She is currently majoring in public health and is a Hale Hall resident assistant, the Black Student Union secretary, and the vice president of Ace Scholars. “Due to my parents not going to college, they cannot relate to a lot of things I am going through right now. So, it has been hard not being able to look at them for help during certain situations,” said Trinitie.
“I struggled at first. I was the only person in my friend group who was a first-generation student, so I did feel a little embarrassed about it. Nonetheless, after finding out all the resources UE has to offer, I was able to get a lot of questions I had answered. I was able to meet a lot of staff who really are passionate about helping first-generation students because they were in my shoes when they were in college. UE also has so many great resources for pretty much anything a student may need, so that has been a ton of help. I always have questions and there is always a place I can look for answers in.”
Many first-generation students’, like Trinitie, expressed a feeling of being unprepared and not knowing what to expect when it comes to college life until they’re flung into it and forced to adapt. Imposter syndrome is a common experience among many first-generation college students. Many start to wonder “Can I even really do 4 years of this?”.
Other students, like Alex Galindo-Ortiz, who is also a part of Ace Scholars as a mentor, helps students work through issues they’re having and gives them advice about how college life can be so different from high school. “Before coming to college, I was unaware of the environment I was throwing myself into.” said Alex, “ I enjoy having the ability to share my own experiences and share tips with others just like me. I want others to have a better transition to college than I did. In addition, I enjoy talking about my hardships and how I have overcome them.”
Alex Galindo-Ortiz is a junior currently earning his degree with a major in Global Business and a minor in Communications. Alex is known to do a lot for UE when it comes to campus life, including being the Student Government Association president, as well as a member of the Student Activities Board, Greek Life, Lead Forward, Admissions Ambassador, and is a part of Schroeder Ambassadors. Alex has definitely proven to be a strong asset to the University of Evansville community.
Ace Scholars truly make firsts generation college students feel not so alone when it comes to making mistakes and learning from them. They even sometimes prevent mistakes from happening. Most first-generation college students can tell you at least one story about how little they knew about college.
“When signing up for classes freshman year, my mom told me to sign up for as many classes as possible,” said Trinitie, “She believed the more credit hours you take, the better off I would be when it came to graduation. I ended up taking 18 credits hours both fall and spring semesters of freshman. It was torture and I found out my mom really had no idea what credit hours were!”
Even making the decision for college can be challenging and seem like an uphill battle. Alex says, “When making my decision for college, UE was never on my list. It wasn’t until I went to a college fair at my school that I noticed them. The only reason I walked over to the UE table is that they had the same color patterns as a local high school in my area. So I thought to myself, why is a high school at a college fair. That is the story of how I found UE and somehow changed my whole perspective in my college decision.”
Most high school settings don’t seem to give students the tools to succeed in college and prepare them for the riggor college can bring, meaning first-generation college students are set back even further than regular student’s when it comes to academic preparedness. Ace Scholars like Trinitie and Alex have been proactive and have tons of advice to give to their first-gen scholars on. All from how to study to what good time management looks like.
Trinities advice for other first-generation college students is, “When coming to college I was unsure of everything that was out here, I choose a major that sounded good without really exploring all that was available. I would tell other first-generation students to explore everything the campus has to offer first, do not be afraid to ask for help, and take advantage of the resources available to them. You are not alone and there have been plenty of people before you that were in similar situations.”
Alex says, “When college gets hard, don’t give up. Life is always tricky, but if you want something, fight for it. Prove to those who don’t believe in you that they are wrong and then go after it.”
With the help of people like Alex and Trinitie are going to go far after their time at the University of Evansville. The impact that they made on other ace scholars and mentors will help first-generation college students succeed and prosper throughout their college life all the way to their future careers, making them trailblazers.