NEW YORK (PIX11) — Nov. 8 is recognized every year as National First-Generation Celebration Day. It’s a day to honor students who are the first in their families to go to college.
The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at City College held a celebration for its first-generation students on Tuesday.
Andrew Rich is the dean and says of the 4,000 students, about 70% are the first in their families to pursue higher education.
“A lot of times, I think, first-generation students sit in the classroom and they think they’re the only one and we want to make sure they realize that they’re even close to being alone at City College,” Rich said.
The school’s commitment to first-generation students is recent and credited to a man named Ciro Scala. Scala first attended City College in 1959 but had to drop out when life got in the way. He ended up having a successful career in textiles but enrolled again decades later and graduated in 2020.
“He finished, and when he did, he said, ‘We have to do more to support our first-gen students,’” Rich said.
The school is making sure that students aren’t only succeeding in the classroom but are also involved on campus and aware of internship opportunities. These are things that Cynthia Gutierrez, manager of mentoring and alumni relations, says the students’ parents may not know enough of to advise them.
“It can be difficult to navigate the waters of what college has, so we really try to make it easier for them to transition from high school to college by having these types of events to expose them to everything we have to offer here,” Gutierrez said.
Muhammad Shabbir is a first-generation student from Pakistan.
“The downsides are the finances, the confidence, the uncertainty of what to do,” Shabbir said. “Will you be successful or not? There’s all that imposter syndrome in you. Are you even supposed to be here? Because my parents weren’t here.”
Shabbir also points out the positive side of being first-generation such as the pride in being the first.
The school has built a set of programs to provide mentorship to engage the students.
Zine Ebersohn is a first-generation student from South Africa.
“It really creates community for people to come together and feel like they belong but also, more importantly, to feel that they’re not alone,” Ebersohn said.
The school says it will continue its support and run programming until the end of the school year with more resources in years to come.