The newest student resource center on campus is the First-Generation Student Center, and last week, staff held a tabling event to show off their services. Assistant Director for the First-Generation Student Center Uma Mahalingam worked with a few first-generation students to introduce new resources and programs.
According to the First-Generation Student Center page on Ramapo’s website, a first-generation student is defined as “an undergraduate where neither parent(s) nor legal guardian(s) have completed a bachelor’s degree in the U.S.” The First-Generation Student Center had been in the works for a while prior to 2022, when the center was officially approved during the 2021-2022 Strategic Planning Process.
Conversations about the need for additional support for first-generation students began as far back as 2018, and a First-Generation College Celebration was held in 2019 to identify the needs of first-generation students. Last November, the college hired Mahalingam, which led President Cindy Jebb’s First-Generation Proclamation and First-Generation College Celebration Month.
Mahalingam is a 2018 Ramapo alum. She said the resources available to first-generation students and the attitude towards them is much different now compared to nearly a decade ago. The First-Generation Student Center website shares that over 40% of students in the first-year class of Fall 2022 identify as first-generation.
“When I came to Ramapo in 2014, first-generation students were always around, but it’s more so now an up-and-coming topic. In terms of services, it was essentially services that were available to everybody. Now in 2023, now that there is a bit more buzz about first-generation students… it’s about figuring out who they are and what they need to persist through college and graduate with a four-year degree,” she said.
Part of her role now is creating a welcoming space for students, and she said students are always welcome to visit her office in D-212. One of the programs she said the center has in place is a partnership with GlobalMindED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping undergraduate students close the equity gap by connecting them with professional mentors who will help provide knowledge and direction on navigating college as a first-generation student.
The center is also in the process of establishing a Ramapo chapter of Tri-Alpha, a national honor society for first-generation students.
Jordan Meredith is a graduate student looking to get her master’s degree in Arts and Educational Leadership and a Center for Student Success employee. She came to Ramapo as a first-generation college student and earned her undergraduate degree in social work.
“We’re just here to be a support for anyone who’s first-gen or an ally,” she said. “I would like there to not be a negative stigma around first-gen. We are trailblazers and we create wonderful opportunities for ourselves and our families.”
Maya McQueen is not a Ramapo student, but her fieldwork for her master’s degree of education in higher education at Rutgers led her to campus and her work with the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program and First-Generation Student Center. Originally from Philadelphia, she attended Neumann University for her undergraduate degree.
“As a first-gen, my mind was kind of all over the place when it came to choosing a college and university and I didn’t have many opportunities to visit many college campuses,” she said when asked about her decision to attend Neumann. “But they had an accepted student day, and my first time on Neumann’s campus, it felt like home… They made me really feel like I belong and I chose Neumann after visiting for the first time.”
She also said attending Neumann was “a win for her and a win for her family.” Her experience as a first-generation student and the opportunity to branch out as a student leader led to her decision to pursue her master’s in higher education to be able to help give back to first-generation and low-income students.
The First-Generation Student Center also has an Instagram page and Archway page that students can follow to stay updated on any upcoming events and programs. Their first program of the semester is a workshop on what it means to be a first-generation student and will be held on Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. in A218.
Photo by Matthew Wikfors