Inaugural USC first-generation summit held

First-generation students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered together at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center on Saturday at the inaugural summit for first-generation college students hosted by USC’s First-Generation College Student Task Force.

The event, titled “First-Generation College Student Summit: Paths to Success,” had participants and speakers discuss how being a first-generation, or “first-gen,” college student impacted their identity.

The idea to create a summit for first-generation college students stemmed from a three-year series of discussions among the First-Generation College Student Task Force, comprised of USC faculty and students.

George Sanchez, the vice dean for diversity and strategy initiatives from the Dornsife Office for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, delivered the opening remarks.

“We thought it was important to gather faculty, staff and students together to employ the best practices on meeting the needs of first gens and share this information with all first-gen college students,” Sanchez said.

This committee, headed by Sanchez and Mary Ho, the assistant dean for diversity and strategic initiatives from the Dornsife Office for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, organized the summit.

As a first-generation college student himself, Sanchez identified with his audience.

“I’m first-gen because I am a role model for other members of my family, my community and the students I now teach,” Sanchez said. “I’m first-gen because I have and will continue to overcome obstacles put in front of me. I am first-gen because I see a part of me in each of you.”

Sanchez also introduced the launch of a new website geared toward first-generation students.

“The website is intended to provide resources and information designed specifically for first-generation college students in order to help them navigate the university structure,” Sanchez said.

After Sanchez’s remarks, the summit held a four-person panel featuring alumni Ana Elizabeth Rosas ’06 and Nick Valencia ’05. The panelists relayed their narratives as first-generation college students and offered advice.

Valencia, currently a CNN correspondent, described the challenges and responsibilities he faces as a Latino journalist.

“I went from being the white-washed kid in Northeast L.A. to the ambassador of my culture in Atlanta,” Valencia said. “I have dealt with all sorts of those challenges; even at a company like CNN, I still experienced ethnic and diversity challenges. I feel like it’s important for me to shed misconceptions and help people understand.”

After the panel, participants moved to the first breakout session which provided smaller groups for more in-depth discussion.

Breyona White, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, attended the summit as a way to meet and have a discourse with students that were from similar backgrounds.

“To connect with other first-generation students, since it’s not really a question asked commonly, and convene around the same problems and struggles we all face,” White said.

After the opening remarks and panel, White attended the “Taking Advantage of High-Impact Practices” breakout session with Sanchez and three recent alumni.

“I thought it was a really great breakout session,” White said. “We talked about practices you can use throughout your undergraduate career to be successful, and if you stay consistent, there’s a really high chance you’ll be.”

After lunch, she went to two other breakout sessions, “Increase Motivation, Decrease Anxiety and Get Things Done” and “Student Success from Undergrad to Grad.”

During lunch, the planning committee announced award recipients. Sam Fisher ’11 won the Community Leadership Award for his Sam Fisher Fellows program which grants first-generation students scholarships, Lanita Jacobs, an associate professor in anthropology and American studies and ethnicity in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, earned the Faculty Mentor Award and current Undergraduate Student Government Senator Sabrina Enriquez ’18 was awarded the Student Leadership Award.

Provost Michael Quick then addressed the crowd as the keynote speaker. He discussed his journey as a first-generation college student and gave the attendees advice.

The day ended with a resource fair, closing and reception in the TCC Ballroom.

Katie Bolton, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies and NGOs and social change, served as a volunteer and helped plan the event.

A first-generation student herself, she wanted to be able to give back.

“Up until this point, there hasn’t been a place for first-gen students to come together and learn what we’re learning about,” Bolton said. “College can be very intimidating when you get here. It was important to help make the summit possible because students need the help.”