Are you a first generation college student?
Being a first generation college student encompasses many things, it does not necessarily follow a strict definition.
This umbrella term can apply to you in many ways like these:
- being the first in your family to attend any college (like Anarius)
- being the first in your family to come to the US for college (like Bitania and myself)
- attending college even if a parent had attended some college
- being the first in your family to attend an institution like Vanderbilt as opposed to a state school or community college
- anyone who might have a disadvantage both in the application process or attending college compared to people whose parents graduated college
But even if this term doesn’t apply to you, it’s good to understand what it means and all it can include.
FirstVU is a student org, at first within the Office of Transition Programs, that is progressing in a new direction to be more inclusive and relevant to first generation college students at Vandy. Under the leadership of Anarius Cathey, president, and Bitania Endalkachew, PR chair, FirstVU is currently aiming at increasing their campus presence and support for all students.
Meet Anarius and Bitania, and FirstVU!
What are you guys majoring in?
Anarius (A): Sociology and Women and Gender Studies, pre-med
Bitania (B): Political Science and Women and Gender Studies, minor in business, pre-law
Where are y’all from?
B: I was born in Ethiopia, but lived in China where my dad worked as an ambassador, and then I went to high school in the US.
What year are y’all?
What other things are you involved with on campus besides FirstVU?
A: Cheer, Experience Vanderbilt
B: National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA), ‘Dore for a Day, interning for Bob Freeman (D-state rep candidate), interning at the Women’s Center
How and why did you get involved with FirstVU?
A: There is an estimated 9-10% of first gen students here at Vandy, all self-identified. The Office of Transition Programs already had FirstVU set up in the administrative side, but they sought out student leaders to make it a more student-led and student-centered organization.
B: After having to figure out a lot about college on my own, it’s nice to be able to have a community of people going through similar things.
So far what have your events been like? What are your goals for FirstVU in the near future?
A: We used to have First Gen Fridays, where first gen students and faculty (who had been first gen students themselves) could meet and have a supportive community. But it wasn’t scheduled at convenient times for a lot of students so we’re trying to schedule more GBM (general body meeting) type things so more students can attend.
B: We definitely want to make FirstVU more community-focused.
What are obstacles many first gen students face?
A and B: Things that seem like not a big deal, but kind of are assumed that we know, and can make a big difference, such as these:
- the whole college application process itself (B: I had to figure it all out myself with the help of my high school counselor because even though my parents were college grads, they were unfamiliar with the US system and weren’t sure how to help)
- how to schedule classes, and the importance of having a set lunch time!
- where to sit in class
- how to talk to professors
- living in a dorm
- knowing it’s not the end of the world if we get a bad test grade (A: when I got my first bad test grade freshman year, my mom wasn’t sure how to console me, and even asked if I wanted to transfer out! But we’ve gotten better at knowing what is and isn’t too big of a deal. A couple bad test grades in college aren’t the worst thing that can happen)
Especially when even first gen students don’t know about other students going through the same thing as them, they might feel like they’re alone or like they don’t belong. We’re here to offer a helping hand.
Any advice to your younger self, or to prospective first gen students?
A and B:
- Dream big. If you want something, just do it. Be comfortable with having ridiculous dreams.
- Believe in yourself more.
- Keep your own goals in mind without worrying too much about what other people are doing
Run your own race
If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about FirstVU, email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org