It is daunting to be first. It is why students are hesitant to present their projects first, or why children are scared to be the first person to stand up to a bully. Being the guinea pig can be extremely difficult, especially when the stakes are high.
For first generation students, the stakes are the highest they can be. Numerous students at Ramapo dream to be the first in their family to graduate college, but along with this dream comes many obstacles. Luckily, many of the College’s first-generation students are motivated to make their dream a reality.
To honor the College’s first-generation students, Ramapo’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) held a tree dedication this past Thursday to take part in the nationwide second annual First-Generation College Celebration Day.
Joined by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-Generation Student Success, EOF celebrated the College’s first generation, low-income students for their perseverance and recognized their unique struggles.
“It is difficult being a first-generation student,” said junior and first-generation EOF student Rebecca Perry. “Simple things like filling out the FAFSA is something I have to learn and do by myself.”
The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a nonprofit formed in 1981, and the national organization the Center for First-Generation Student Success initiated the First-Generation College Celebration in 2017 to recognize first-generation college students. This year, the organizations invited colleges across the nation to take part in the celebration. Some institutions held rallies or hosted panels, but Ramapo chose to commemorate first-generation students through a tree dedication.
Planted outside the EOF Office located in D-101, the tree serves as a way to recognize the amount of work these students put into getting their education.
EOF students, as well as Ramapo administrators, took their turn planting the “Tree of Access and Opportunity,” as the plaque in front of the tree reads.
The November air was brisk, making the tree’s yellow leaves dance with every chilling gust of wind, but the warm smiles helped to fend off the cold as little by little the students and administrators used a shovel to plant the symbolic tree.
“The tree dedication is important because our old one was knocked down by one of the bad storms, and it is sort of like another little symbol for our EOF family,” said Perry.
Ramapo’s EOF program is the primary resource for first-generation students at Ramapo. First generation students have all the stresses characteristic of a college student in addition to their own distinctive struggles. These students may lack the resources that others take for granted when coming to college, and EOF works to help students get prepared for higher education.
“You need to need us in order for us to help you,” said EOF Director Barbara Harmon-Francis. “So if you’re a student who’s already fully prepared for college or if both your parents have a Bachelor’s Degree and they have an income level above a certain level, you don’t need our program.”
Harmon-Francis explained, though, that the students that they do accept into the program exhibit both commitment to their academia and resilience throughout their college journeys.
“We work with highly motivated students and we give them extra academic and financial support,” said Harmon-Francis.
She explained that students who are accepted into the EOF program attend a six-week summer session before their freshman year where they take various courses to prepare themselves for classes in the fall. Then throughout their college careers, EOF students meet with EOF student development specialists once a month until they graduate.
“EOF students are phenomenal. Our students work so hard,” said Harmon-Francis. “For society to say, ‘oh, you’re behind the ball, you’re not prepared,’ and then for them to come in and have that motivation and be able to accomplish so much means a lot. It just means a lot.”