How is Franklin and Marshall College helping first-generation students succeed? Six students share their honest experiences.
What’s the one thing F&M first-generation students say they struggled with most in their first semester?
“In high school, I always had my hand raised. When I got to college, I was just kind of ‘there.’ I wasn't an active participant anymore,” said Omar Khan ‘23. “The sense of belonging was off.”
Five other students joined Khan to share their struggles – and successes – in a candid fall semester panel focused on being the first in their families to attend college.
The conversation kicked off a new series called “In Their Own Words.” These panel discussions are part of a larger initiative designed to bring awareness of unique student experiences to faculty and professional staff.
For Khan, a little prompting from professors went a long way.
“The professors in college would encourage me to speak up. It's not that I didn't want to participate. The approach of the professor in the classroom really does help you break out of your shell,” he said.
Event moderators included Kabi Hartman, director of the program in support of academic excellence, and Susan Knoll, care coordinator.
Read a recap of student responses below.
F&M: What did you need to know? What worked for you?
Osa Ibude ’22: I feel like the College does a great job with connecting people to different cohorts. When I was a first-year, I was put in a cohort [with] peer student mentors. I was able to get a lot of information that I otherwise would not have had. I feel like the school does a great job with integrating the cohorts within the campus.
Naomi Pina Garcia ’23: The Posse [Scholar] program really played a big part in helping me integrate myself into campus. Posse was like a bridge between our cohort and the College’s resources.
First Generation Diplomats really played a big role in connecting me to resources like OSPGD [Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development], learning about my major and minor, and all of the study-abroad programs. That played a really big role in helping me understand what I can get help for, where I can go to and who I can go to.
Melanie Dios ’22: I thought the school did an amazing job – especially prior to coming onto campus – of putting us in support groups, sending us information about the PIT [Putting It Together] program. Those programs are so essential. When I came to college, I already had a group of friends and a support group, so I didn’t feel so overwhelmed.
F&M: What did you expect from your first meeting with your academic adviser?
Kassidy Wynne ’21: Coming to college, I wasn’t even sure what a major or a minor was. I had no basic knowledge. So from my adviser, I really needed basic little things. She was really great at helping me just understand basic things.
Maritza Marquez ’23: It’s the small, little details that others assume we have knowledge of. But as a first gen, I had no idea. My academic adviser definitely helped in that aspect.
Essentially, what my adviser did was place me in classes that interested me and also filled out those gen eds. Now I’m done with all of them. If it weren't for her, I think I would still be filling them out.
Dios: I had to go to my adviser for everything. I still didn’t know anything about majors or minors. I would get nervous that I was asking questions that are basic knowledge for everyone else… but I really thank [my adviser] for being patient and explaining step-by-step, since I had no one else to go to for these kinds of things.
F&M: What were the most difficult things during your first month at F&M? What came naturally?
Ibude: Knowing that it’s okay to reach out for help and knowing who to reach out to help for certain things. As a wide-eyed first-year, everything was so brand new to me and everything was coming at me at once: All of the information, all of the emails, and all the new people that I’m meeting.
You can always reach out to your friends, but they don’t have that professional guidance you need from an academic adviser or a professor or a dean.
Dios: I didn't want to go and get help from people, especially professors or people I saw as more of an authority figure. During this whole process, even back home, I never asked for help. I always did everything on my own. I had this mentality that me asking for help was a sign of weakness. It was a pride thing.
Marquez: It was very easy for me to reach out to professors or even resources on campus like the Writing Center. I always feel better when I know the answer instead of being on a “loose goose” chase.
What I did struggle with that first month was homesickness. Being so far away from home... I underestimated that.
F&M: Being a first-generation college student can take an emotional and mental toll. Did you struggle emotionally or mentally? What helped?
Ibude: It was such a tough battle. I felt like I had to deal with everything by myself. I finally reached out to Dean [Beth] Profitt. We spoke about some of the things I was going through. Ultimately, she helped me book a ticket to go back home for my grandfather’s funeral. When I came back to campus from New York, I had a refreshed mindset in knowing there are people who can help me, and are willing to help me.
Khan: I struggled with imposter syndrome. In high school, I always had my hand raised. When I got to college, I was just kind of “there.” I wasn't an active participant anymore because I didn't feel like I belonged there. The sense of belonging was off.
The professors in college would encourage me to speak up. It's not that I didn't want to participate. The approach of the professor in the classroom really does help you break out of your shell.
F&M: What got you through feelings of imposter syndrome?
Dios: I never took a chemistry class in high school and then I decided to take chem… I studied really hard and I got a B- in my first chem exam. I saw these students getting A’s, so I thought it was a bad grade. It was my professor who really normalized things and showed me that I am not dumb. He pulled me to the side. He talked to me, he learned about my background… He was very affirming.
Pina Garcia: My high school was predominantly Hispanic and Black. All of my advanced Spanish classes were filled with native speakers; we didn’t learn that much for the AP exam.
I came into [intermediate] Spanish thinking it wouldn’t be too much of a struggle for me because of what I was taught in high school... It came naturally to me, but at the same time, I would still get it wrong. I would always have to put in that extra step to re-educate myself about Spanish. I felt like I didn’t belong in the class, even though I was a native speaker.
In office hours… I started spilling all these emotions. [My professor] told me that because I’m a native speaker, I'm a step above all my classmates. For some reason, I couldn’t realize that. It helped boost my confidence in Spanish. Now, I’m at a 400-level Spanish class. I was able to gain some courage and be confident in my ability as a native speaker.
"When I came to college, I already had a group of friends and a support group, so I didn’t feel so overwhelmed."