First-Gen Students – Meet the DrewFirst Club Board Members!

DrewFIRST is a club focused on helping first-generation college students succeed at Drew. First-gens are the first in their families to attend college or university and often struggle with the transition to college. This club creates a community so these students will not feel isolated, and provides peer support, events, and workshops to help students in their social, academic, and professional development. The main goal for this club is to help first-generation college students integrate into the Drew community. Follow the club on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drewfirstgen/   Path: https://path.drew.edu/organization/drewfirst

Meet the Board Members below and learn more about the club!

Gabriella Ramirez C’23, President

Duties: Lead and represent the club, establish relationships with faculty and administrators, provide resources and support for first generation students

What are your greatest challenges as a first-gen student?

Not knowing what questions to ask or who to go to when I need assistance. I also find myself embarrassed when I don’t understand how to do something and sometimes it makes me feel isolated from my other peers and makes me doubt myself.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

I have done as much as I can to teach myself about the college process and taking initiative to reach out to people when I need help or have questions despite not having the support. I have done it all by myself.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

I hope the club offers the necessary resources and support that first generation students are looking for. I hope we can become our own little community and be a safe space for each other.

For academic support I would like to include financial aid workshops such as understanding your billing statement, learning how to appeal, work study jobs and how loans work. I would also like to do resume and cover letter building as a career preparation workshop. I am in the America Needs You Fellowship of New Jersey which is designed for first generation students and would like to share that in addition to scholarships. I also want students to have access to mentors. We do a lot of our student spotlights and sharing of this information on our Instagram Page: @drewfirstgen

Socially, I think the First Generation College Celebration Week in November can serve as a time to honor each other’s achievements. The end of year gala before graduation would serve the same purpose and allow all first generation students to interact with and learn from each other. I would like for us to have social meet ups as well even if they are as casual as grabbing lunch in the Commons.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

In a time where social isolation is striking so many people, I understand that the weight of not having support is heavier than usual. I encourage you to reach out to your friends, advisor, professors or even anyone on the Board to help you through this process. We want to support you.

Alivia Salls C’23, Vice President

Duties: I assist the President with important decisions about the club and fill in for the president when needed. I help out people in other positions when necessary, and reach out to faculty about events or coordinating projects we are working on.

What are your greatest challenges as a first-gen student?

Being first-gen can look like so many different things but for me it comes with being low-income. The biggest challenge I experience has to do with finances and understanding how to navigate the expenses of college.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student? 

My greatest strength that I have developed from being first-gen is I have become very good at figuring out how to do things for myself and by myself. I have to be very independent because I didn’t have all of the information I needed about college just handed to me, I had to figure it out for myself.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students? 

When I first got to Drew University I was hoping there would be some sort of club community of other first-gen students that I could relate to and who could help me acclimate to campus but that didn’t exist. With DrewFirst I want to create that community for future students to rely on. I want to provide students with opportunities to celebrate being first-gen and how big of an accomplishment that is, but I also want to provide them with workshops that help with navigating college such as financial aid, resume building, etc.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

My advice to first year students is to use your resources and don’t stop asking questions. Yes you got this far and have been able to figure things out yourself but there are so many people who want to help and support you so use that to your advantage.

Valerie Boffa C’22, Secretary

Your duties: Answer and send emails on DrewFIRST’s behalf, take notes at meetings and share them with everyone, take attendance at all events

What are your greatest challenges as a first-gen student? 

I think I’ve always doubted myself and my ability to succeed because of limitations which are out of my control. I also have an invisible disability (Attention Deficit Disorder) which makes paying attention in class very difficult for me at times. I think we as First Generation Students are all familiar with Imposter Syndrome as well. Imposter Syndrome can be defined as “A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student? 

Just being able to understand the many barriers faced by low income families, not just educationally but financially. My family was on food stamps at one point so I definitely know the feeling of wondering when your next meal could come. Being First Gen definitely has helped me understand the importance of extending kindness to others in need!

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students? 

I hope that this club will be able to help First Gen students have a more peaceful transition than I did when first coming to Drew as a Freshman. I want to provide plenty of workshops around the clock for them and plenty of resources for them to access 24/7 as well so that a first-gen student at Drew never feels as without answers as I did during my first semester here.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

Keep your head up high and never stop believing in yourself, if you can make it through a semester as unprecedented as this one you can make it through anything life throws at you!

Luisa Ospina C’23, Treasurer

Your duties: I fill out purchase requests, file receipts and keep them in order, fund requests, submit budget for the year, and keep track of spending.

What are your greatest challenges as a First-gen student?

As a first-gen student, I didn’t have parents who could help with homework because they didn’t speak English; instead I had to invest a lot of time in helping them learn and translating for them. I felt a lot of pressure being the first in the family to be born in the United States and go to college. I never had relatives or family friends I could ask for help with when it came to writing a resume, applying for college, getting internships, etc.,

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

Definitely determination and persistence to achieve my goals despite all the obstacles and challenges I’ve faced. My parents and family told me not to feel pressured to go back to college after my brain surgery but I pushed through and did.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

I hope it will motivate students and let them know that we are here for one another so that we can all succeed; we should always feel proud of ourselves for getting this far and overcoming all the obstacles in our way. Resume building activities, looking for internships and employment opportunities related to our dream jobs, interview workshops to be prepared and answer confidently, financial aid understanding.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

No matter the challenges and difficulties, believe in yourself and feel proud for getting this far; stay motivated and determined to push through because in the end, it will all be worth it.

Maria Isabel Vazquez-Maldonado C’23, Marketing Manager

Your duties: I handle the IG page, Monday resources, Compiling Community Spotlights(First gen appreciation posts), Event Fliers

What are your greatest challenges as a first-gen student?

Asking for help. Many times I feel embarrassed not knowing how to do something or who to go to resource.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

Advocating for myself. Having had virtually no one help navigate the college experience, I learned to invest in myself and ask the tough questions that many privileged students do not have to consider when applying to jobs and school. As a first-gen student, I was forced to learn time management and learned to differentiate what to consider a priority and what is a luxury.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

I hope that we can ask the questions they are too afraid to ask and provide the resources they need to succeed while providing them a safe judgment-free zone. In terms of resources, I think it would be beneficial to host workshops on understanding the financial aid packages and finding job opportunities on campus. I would like for first-gen students to be able to get together and do ice breaker activities to become more familiar who fellow first-gen students on campus, and see how diverse we are in not only where we come from but in our majors as well. I hope that as our smaller community starts to expand we have great a mentor-mentee experience with first-gen Alumni so that current student has someone to turn to who has already completed the college experience.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

Prioritize yourself. Give yourself space to breathe. The easiest mistake to make is over-committing yourself. Self-care and your mental health are just as important as your academics. It is not selfish to want to take naps and watch TV shows. We understand the pressure that comes with being first-years and first-gens, seeking help does not make you weak. We are here to support you.

Marla A. Contreras, Co-marketing Manager

Your duties: I handle the Drew Today and The Path posts. I also am responsible for drafting and advertising flyers.

What are your greatest challenges as a First-gen student?

Not having the support system that many non-first gen students have. For example, I fill out my own FAFSA including the parent section.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

I have had to figure things out by myself and I think that has made me more independent. A lot of people my age rely on their parents to sort out stuff for them but not me. You could say I am grateful for that.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

My hope is that DrewFirst will create a significant safe-space for first generation students. Whether it be academically or socially, I believe that DrewFirst can help students in many ways.

What type of activities, programs, experiences, workshops do you want to provide for first-gen students?

Financial literacy workshops, meet-and-greets would have been fun but unfortunately that is not a current option.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

Put yourself out there, even if it makes you uncomfortable. There is no growth in comfort.

Yida Ramirez C’21, Events Coordinator

Your duties: My duties as an event coordinator include helping create and organize events of the group. This would include booking event spaces, working in collaboration with other groups, and working with the event manager to greate flyers to advertise events.

What are your greatest challenges as a first-gen student?

Knowing that a lot of what you do not know you will have to learn on your own and having to work 100x harder to get the things you need/want.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

My ability to have a solution for everything. I do not believe in giving up, there is always a way for something to work out and if it doesn’t at least you know you tried everything to make it work.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

I hope that it will provide first-generation students with a sense that they are not alone. My hope is that when a first-gen student feels lost they come to us for help and resources. More financial aid workshops and appreciation events. Networking events/ dinners.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

My advice would be to keep going and understand that while certain things in life can get hard it will eventually pass and things will get brighter and better. Hard work will pay off.

Nohemi Zabala C’21, Senior Adviser

Your duties: Send out Doodle Polls, organize and schedule DrewFirst meetings and one-on-one’s, mediate meetings, oversee E-Board applications/interviews, and fill in whenever needed.

What are your greatest challenges as a First-gen student?

First-gen students tend to experience a lot of uncertainty and doubt. At times it could feel as if you have a great desire to succeed, but you are stuck not knowing what you are supposed to do or who you can ask for help. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, it may even be hard to formulate what to ask and when to ask. First-gen students have to figure out how something works as they are going through it and that could also be very overwhelming.

What do you feel are your greatest strengths as a first-gen student?

Knowing that you are the first in your family to graduate from college should fill every first-gen student with pride and courage. It’s that sense of pride and courage that can become your strength and motivation throughout the difficulties of undergrad. Once you have that, there’s nothing that can stop you from being successful.

What do you hope the DrewFirst club will do for Drew’s first-gen students?

My hope is to be able to leave Drew knowing that there is a resource available for present and future first-gen students. I hope DrewFirst becomes a safe space for first-gen students to ask any and all questions, share their thoughts and concerns, and rejoice their victories together. A club that is equipped with so many resources and information that it can make the undergraduate experience of all first-gen students smoother. Any and all activities that we as a club have found to help first-gen students be more successful. Specifically, I would love to be able to provide quality mentorship and networking opportunities for first-gen students because I think that is something that a lot of first-gen students lack in and is key to being successful post-graduation.

What’s your advice to first-generation students starting this year?

Although the current situation is not ideal, enjoy every second of your undergraduate experience and make every moment count! Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way and embrace it. There’s no such thing as a mistake. Ask questions, make friends, and form connections with professors, faculty, and alumni. Even when it seems like it’s too hard, never ever give up on your dreams because you can do it!

 

Posted by Yasmin Acosta
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