November 8 is First-Generation College Day, which honors the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to open higher education to minorities and those from low-income backgrounds.
While the definition can vary, as the Center for First-Generation Student Success states, “first-gen” generally means that your parents did not complete a four-year college or university degree.
According to Drexel’s Office of Counseling and Health Services, an estimated 30 percent of the University’s full-time undergraduate students, faculty and professional staff identify as first-generation college students. Among that percentage are members of CCI’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Council; established in 2020, CCI’s DEI Council is working to create a more welcoming, supportive, respectful and inclusive college environment for all.
“The Council is working across the College to learn about our CCI community and how we can create and foster an equitable and supportive environment for all our students, but especially those students who may be a trailblazer in their family and providing them with the resources that will set them up for success and inspire future generations of Drexel students,” said Marie Fazio, a first-generation college student, CCI’s diversity officer and assistant dean of operations & faculty advancement.
Drexel is also home to the First Forward program which brings together members of the Drexel community who are working to ensure that first-generation college students are supported and recognized for the unique insights and experiences that they bring with them to campus. First Forward hosts a variety of events each year for first-generation students, faculty, professional staff, and their allies.
Current Drexel students are encouraged to join the Dragon's First student organization – the Drexel chapter of Philadelphia-based nonprofit Collective Success Network which supports low-income, first-generation college students to achieve their academic and career aspirations through a network of students and professionals.
In honor of First-Generation College Day, including some of CCI’s DEI council members, including faculty, professional staff and students, shared what being first-generation means to them:
Karen DeVose, EdD (Director of Advising):
“Being first-generation means I had the courage to pursue a dream that was inaccessible to my mother. I looked beyond my environment and knew there was more to be had in life. As I entered the “foreign world” of academia, I developed grit, resiliency, and achieved more than I ever expected. My experiences have allowed me give back and motivate to other first-generation students to make what seems to be impossible a reality.”
Kudzai (Student, MS in Human-Computer Interaction & User Experience):
"For me, being first-gen means being a pioneer and taking that first step into the unknown with confidence because I know that there are so many people who believe in me that are cheering me on. It's a huge steppingstone for me and my entire family and I can say with confidence that while I am indeed the first, I am certainly not going to be the last."
Marie Fazio (Assistant Dean, Operations & Faculty Advancement and Diversity Officer):
“I was privileged to be the first to attend college and graduate school in my family. My parents afforded me an opportunity that they didn’t have, and for that I’m eternally grateful. My educational experience is at the core of who I am as a person. As a first-gen student, I realized that although you may be surrounded by your peers in a classroom, the lived experiences of each individual may vary greatly. As I reflect on those initial university experiences, at times they were challenging to navigate, but the support of my family and my own resilience got me through. Those experiences have instilled in me the importance of compassion, empathy and extending a helping hand to others.”
Tammy Pirmann (Assistant Teaching Professor, Computer Science):
“Being the first person in my family to earn a bachelor's degree (at 30 years old as a single mother) meant access to a better life for my daughter and myself. Each degree after that (and there have been two more) have increased the financial and personal stability of my whole family.”
Muneera Cadersa, BS Data Science & Mathematics Student:
“Being a first-generation college student to me means that I am not only going to school to earn a degree but to also accomplish the dream of my parents who never got the privilege of education. Being the oldest daughter and the first one to benefit from a college education in my family makes me realize how blessed I am. I have seen my parents work day and night just so I could get an education they could never afford for themselves. All my academic accomplishments are dedicated to them, for all they have sacrificed to offer me the gift of education.”
Bobby Nguyen, PhD in Information Science Student:
“We’re explorers! That’s what being a first-generation student means to me. Although constantly navigating through uncharted territories filled with challenges, lessons learned, and humility, we’re mindful and appreciative of the arduous journey. There’s no one right path in life but ours included some unexpected mountains to climb and rivers to cross before reaching the destination. As a PhD student, I’m here today because of my family. As a researcher, I’m here today because of my mentors. As explorers, we’re here today to discover new learning opportunities and ambitions.”