UMass Boston holds First Generation Students Week

The first generation resource fair held at the Campus Center on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 as part of First Gen Week at UMass Boston.

Last week, UMass Boston held its first ever First Generation Students Week in order to celebrate and provide resources for the university’s first generation students. 

Phil Begeal, Director of New Student and Family Programs and Chair of the First Forward Task Force—a university-wide group of representatives focused on supporting first generation students—was able to provide UMass Boston’s definition of a first generation student.

Begeal, who is a first generation student himself, stated that a first generation student is an individual who is the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university in the United States. First generation students who have older siblings also going to college still qualify as first generation students.

According to Begeal, UMass Boston has previously celebrated First Generation Student Day, but this is the first year the First Forward Task Force has extended the celebration into an entire week.

“Colleges and universities across the country celebrate Nov. 8, traditionally, every year, as a celebration day [for first generation students],” said Begeal. “But here at UMass Boston, because such a large portion of our student population is first generation, we decided to expand upon the day that we’ve offered in the past—before the pandemic—and actually do a week of activities to really highlight, throughout the entire week, the value of our first generation community at UMass Boston.”

Throughout the week, several events were celebrated.

On Monday, a kickoff event was held on the Campus Center terrace. The aim of the day was to encourage first generation students to celebrate this aspect of their identity. The Mass Media spoke with some first generation students at the kickoff event regarding their experiences.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Estefani Oliveira, a first generation student from Brazil. “It’s not easy to be a first generation [student], but the university provides a lot of help for people like us.”

“Honestly the big thing that I think of when I think of my experience at UMass Boston is just all of the opportunities that I have gotten over the past few years, I’ve had to really find myself,” said Divya Madhavaiya, a first generation student who was working at the event.

When asked if there was any additional support for first generation students she’d like to see at UMass Boston, Oliveira spoke of having a more personalized advising experience. When asked the same question, Madhavaiya suggested more support for first generation students as they entered university.

“I think I’d like to see a little bit more of additional resources within the campus community,” said Madhavaiya. “Maybe just student volunteers, upperclassmen who can mentor incoming students to be like, ‘here’s how you can build a resume,’ ‘here’s how you can apply to internships,’ or ‘here’s how you can pick classes and what classes might help for your major.’”

The weeklong celebration continued on Tuesday, when the university held a first generation student resource fair. 

On Wednesday, UMass Boston held a first generation career workshop that was open to everyone, but targeted towards the first generation student living-learning community located in the Residence Halls. 

On Thursday, the university was closed due to Veterans' Day, so First Generation Week was celebrated virtually. First generation student veterans were urged to share their stories via the @newbeacons account on Instagram, and other students were encouraged to pay tribute to student veterans, or share their own first generation story. Students who tagged the account and used the appropriate hashtag were entered into an iPad giveaway.

The week closed with a wrap party on Friday, which was a social event where students also received information regarding applications for the Tri-Alpha Honors Society—an honors society open solely to first generation students. 

The wrap party also featured artwork showcasing the stories of first generation students on campus.

“Part of the week’s worth of events is this idea that we’re trying to create a piece of art that highlights the first generation experience here at UMass Boston,” explained Begeal. “So we have these canvases for inviting students to write their name and say a little bit about why they’re proud to be first gen here at UMass Boston.”  

According to Begeal, roughly 59 percent of UMass Boston’s undergraduate population can be classified as first generation students.

When asked what advice she might have for other first generation students at UMass Boston, Madhavaiya replied: “Just be relentless. Even if you might feel discouraged because you’ve had to go to four different advisors because they haven’t given you an answer, or if you have to apply to ten, twenty, thirty—however many internships, jobs, or opportunities—don’t give up. Definitely hunt for what you’re looking for, because the more effort and work that you put into it, it’ll come to you. So just don’t give up, be relentless about it. I think that can take you a long way.”

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