First-generation students reflect on college experience during panel

Mike Brown

Iowa State’s first-generation students were able to mingle with faculty and other members of their community, while sharing their experiences at Iowa State’s first faculty, staff and student mixer and panel for first-generation students.

Both the panel and the mixer took place Monday in the Hixon-Lied Student Success Center.

Attendees were able to connect and network with faculty while enjoying hors d’oeuvres, as well as simply converse and share stories, because many of the faculty in attendance were first-generation students themselves.

Attendees were also invited to a panel discussion, with five student panelists. During this time, students and faculty were invited to ask the panelists questions, and the panelists were also able to share their experiences being first generation college students at Iowa State.

Many students on the panel credited Iowa State’s TRiO team for their success and for supporting them during their time at Iowa State. TRiO is a federal program to help students who come from less represented backgrounds that may lead to challenges when pursuing higher education, such as low income and first generation students.

The Cyclone Success Program’s academic coaching was mentioned as a resource for students, with Lena Nguyen, a panelist and junior in microbiology, saying that they helped support her emotionally, while also helping her with personal and academic development.

“It’s not even ‘coaching’, it’s talking to a friend, truly,” Nguyen said.

One thing someone Nguyen said she wished had told her when she started college was that an early failing grade on a test does not define or determine your grades or ability.

Nguyen also said she struggled with not having family to turn to for help, and said that her mother, who tried her hardest to be supportive often did not know how to help her with certain things like FAFSA information.

Despite not always being able to offer needed advice, however, Nguyen said family was a huge source of encouragement for her to continue to achieve and push forward with her education, saying her brother wanted to go to Iowa State like her, and her little sister dressed up as her for Halloween.

Shared experience was something that helped Jennifer Panzi Ventura, a panelist and senior in animal ecology, who said being able to related to the stories of other first-generation college students helped Iowa State become a second home for her.

Financial struggles were also discussed, with panelist and senior in kinesiology, Carli Endsley, saying that she experienced great financial strain early in her college career, due to not initially knowing how to get access to financial aid.

“My biggest struggle was affording to be here,” Endsley said.

Endsley said she was able to apply for enough scholarships to ease her financial struggle for this year.

Students were also able to offer advice, with panelist sophomore in biology, Tate Blankespoor, stressing the importance of following a major you enjoy, speaking about his own time as a mechanical engineering major, and finding his current major in biology, where he is much happier.

Other topics discussed included balancing academics and having a job, managing one’s schedule, and the importance of self care.

Diana Echeverria, a junior in supply chain management and management information systems, said her favorite aspects of the event were being able to network with and connect with other members of the first generation community at Iowa State.

Representation was also important to Echeverria, and she said that as a first generation student, she enjoyed being able to hear the perspectives of other first generation students.

Christy Oxendine, multicultural liaison officer in the College of Liberal Arts and sciences, as well as a PhD student in social and cultural studies of education, felt inspired by the stories of the student panelists.

“It’s inspirational as a first generation college graduate, who is now in a PhD, and has worked with college students for ten years, it’s still inspirational to hear students stories,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine said hearing the student panelists talk about why they pursued their college education reminded her of why she continues her own work.