At Breakthrough SJC, your voice matters! Whether you’re a student, an educator, or an industry professional, you are a part of the diversity of voices that makes our organization shine. This is the first piece in our new series, BT Community Voices. In the coming weeks, look out for articles on topics like standardized testing and cultural capital, written by featured guests.

Today, we’re hearing from Cassandra Gonzalez, the First Generation Coordinator in the Undergraduate Academic Success Center at Azusa Pacific University. Cassandra earned a B.S. in Criminology and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of La Verne…As a first-generation college student herself, she understands the power of a strong support system within our campus community. Cassandra hopes to be an ally and support system for all first-generation students on our campus to help them succeed in their academic and personal goals.*

Cassandra provides us with a great example of the resources that a university can offer and demonstrates the asset that First Gen students are to campuses. If you’re headed to college next fall, these tips are a reminder to be the squeaky wheel (in the words of our fearless Assistant Director, Sam) and to remember the value that you bring to your community.

Emma: How and why does APU support first-generation students?

Cassandra: APU prioritized supporting first-generation students because our students are important and we know that they bring with them so many assets such as resilience, persistence, community, and drive. For our FG students, we want to ensure that they find the support they need in order to graduate from APU and know that they had a village cheering them on. I myself was FG and remember going through the college process on my own and it was difficult and scary at times, here at APU we don’t want students to go through this journey alone or feel like they can’t make it, so we decided to develop a program dedicated to them.

Emma: What resources are available for first-generation, first-year college students?

Cassandra: For first-year students, we have the First-Year seminar class with helps introduce students to being a college student, balancing college and their personal life and challenges them as college students as well. Through our program, we offer a mentoring program where students are matched with faculty/staff who were FG themselves. We also do a lot of community events for all students, including first-year [students] to connect them to each other and build their circle of support. Students are also able to come to our office if they have questions about where to find specific support, like tutoring, financial aid, internships, etc. and I am able to connect them to our network of staff and faculty.

The most important thing for FG student success is asking for help. Many times we aren’t willing to be vulnerable and want to prove to everyone we can do this on our own, but the reality is that no one (whether FG or not) should go through this journey we call college alone. There are so many resources across any campus and it’s important that we ask when we need help because there is someone out there willing to help.

The takeaways?

  1. Finding support, whether it’s formal or informal, is key to first gen success.
  2. Many schools (like Azusa Pacific University) offer mentoring programs for students and have entire offices dedicated to supporting first-gen students!
  3. No one is meant to go through the journey of college alone.

To learn more about resources for first gen students, check out https://imfirst.org/, a website that features stories and support from other first gen students. Also feel free to read more about the resources at APU here https://www.apu.edu/academic-success/student-success/gen1-scholars/, and follow @APUgen1 on Instagram to see informative posts from the first gen community.

*via Azusa Pacific University.

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