Inside the Classroom

First Generation Student: ‘We Carry A Different Weight On Our Shoulders’

Almost one third of all U.S. undergraduate students are the first in their family to attend college. They’re called first generation students. They face a lot of challenges to reach college. And once they get on campus, they’re more likely to leave higher education.

At the University of St. Thomas, there’s group to support first generation students through college. Carina Tlapanco and Carlos Garcia are both member and are sophomores at UST. They talk about what it’s like to be “first gen.”

Carina Tlapanco and Carlos Garcia
Carina Tlapanco and Carlos Garcia are both 19 and sophomores at the University of St. Thomas. They are members of the “First Gen” group on campus, which aims to support students who are the first in their families to attend college.

 

Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

Carlos Garcia (CG): We carry a different weight on our shoulders. Being the first in our families gives us this pride and fear that we can fail – or we can be that example for the rest of our family.

Carlos Garcia
Carlos Garcia

Carina Tlapanco (CT): Yeah, just being the first one to enter college, I mean, your parents are so proud of you, your whole family is really proud of you, and you’re proud of yourself. But then it’s like, ‘Oh, what if I fail now? What if something goes wrong?’

You’re going to disappoint so many people and it’s not just you. It’s like my whole family is looking forward to me graduating from college, getting my career. It’s scary to think, ‘What if I don’t?’

CG: Both of us being Hispanic — it’s just such a big part of us. Our families are everything to us and we have to give back.

CT: Every time I think about this, my dad comes to my mind. Because He’s always telling me and my brother, ‘You have to be better than what I am, like, you shouldn’t suffer the way I did. You know, he struggled to put food on our table, to put a roof over our heads, and he’s like, ‘You can do better. You have to go farther than me.’ So, it’s just that that reminder constantly.

CG: And then you’d think at school there’s going to be somebody there. But they give the smallest of details and they kind of take for granted that education they have and they don’t realize how tough it is for us.

CT: Basically all through high school, it was just me being alone, just as first gen students, like, basically having to figure everything out by yourself. So just entering college you expect the same thing.

FirstGen_Carina-Tlapanco.jpg
Carina Tlapanco

You don’t expect anybody to actually be there supporting you , like, professors to be there and say, ‘Hey, you can come by my office and ask questions,’ or tutors, ‘We can help you study, we can help you write a paper.’ You just don’t expect that.

And that’s really new and it’s kind of like, ‘Oh! Ok …”

CG: Our meetings are really different than other groups and organizations. We always open up with our names, our majors … It’s a place where we’re open up to talk about anything. So it’s not just school oriented, if there is something going on in our household, obviously, we’re going to have stress, so we can vent in there.  It’s just a welcoming environment.

CT: Yeah, it’s basically a group where you can sort of just be you in a way because you don’t have to …

Like in academics and stuff, you have to like show this persona where you kind of have to know everything and be on top of things. And in this group, it’s like, ‘Ok, you know what? I don’t know this, I need help in this.’ And we’re there to basically help each other and support each other.

CG: You realize you’re not alone.

CT: To other first gen students, I would say you’re not alone, don’t feel like you’re alone, just reach out. Ask questions, stop worrying about the money, all the stress — everything will be OK …

CG: Reach out for help because there are people who are willing and want to help you.

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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