The Advance-Titan

First & Proud rally celebrates journey of first gen students

Laura Dickinson

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Forty-four percent of students on UW Oshkosh’s campus are the first person in their family who went to college. Current UWO first-generation students, first-generation alumni and first-generation staff came together for First and Proud, an event to celebrate and recognize struggles and accomplishments first-gen students have experienced.

Political science professor Tracy Slagter, who was a first-generation student herself, said First and Proud recognizes the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that recognized financial issues aren’t the only road blocks first-generation students face.

“Congress then realized that it was not only financial but non-financial services that were needed to assist students like us with completing their college degree,” Slagter said. “This led to all the TRIO Programs that were brought into existence.”

UWO senior Alma Enciso said the transition coming into college was scary.

“I was freaking out the entire time thinking, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to do this?’” Enciso said. “I was also helping my family with bills, so at the same time I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how are they going to survive without me?’ I didn’t know what I was doing. I was freaking out all the time, but I came in with an open mind.”

Enciso said her biggest challenge coming to UWO was the change from living at home with her large family to living on her own.

“What got me through was I just thought, ‘I am going to do this,’” Enciso said. “I would go to campus events by myself and try to make friends, and some people would ignore me and then some people would actually talk to me. I have no regrets because that is how I actually met my best friend, and I would do it all over again to meet her again.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cheryl Green grew up in Chicago before attending college in Northern Indiana. Green said while her high school experience prepared her for the classroom, it didn’t prepare her for everything outside of the classroom.

“I was always very strong in school,” Green said. “So the academics in college were very familiar to me. What I wasn’t prepared for was everything else, everything that happens outside the classroom, which is the majority of the time you are in college. So the relationships and the culture and the traditions and res life and living in the dorms is everything I wasn’t prepared for. I had to navigate that on my own.”

For many of the first-generation students and alumni, the biggest roadblock of college is finances. UWO junior Tess Otto said paying for college herself is also her biggest accomplishment.

“It was the thing that troubled me the most, but now that I’m into college as far as scholarships and my job and what I do in the summer, that’s going to cover my cost of college, and I am going to graduate with money in my bank,” Otto said. “That is something I am really proud of. No debt. No loans. I was able to put myself through four years of school with no debt.”

Green said she worked many different jobs to overcome financial obstacles.

“I went to a private university,” Green said. “I had scholarships, fellowships, grants, college work study, babysitting and I cleaned the dorms and I recruited for the school. I did all those things to pay for college, and I am really proud of that.”

Green said the biggest thing she learned from being a first-generation student is that persistence is everything.

“Who gets a college degree is not dictated by who is the smartest, who has the most money, who has the most potential,” Green said. “A lot of times those students drop out or don’t complete. College graduation and achievement is about persistence. Persistence in the class, persistence in the major and persistence in getting to graduation. There are going to be hiccups. There are going to be challenges. There are going to be surprises. There are going to be turns in the road, but it is about being dedicated.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
First & Proud rally celebrates journey of first gen students