Being A First-Generation College Student at William and Mary

Anonymous FGLI Student

The experience of a first-generation college student is different compared to non-first-generation college students.  First-generation college students do not have the advantage to question their parents on college advice since he or she is the first to attend college.  This inability of parental wisdom leaves first-generation college students unprepared for the obstacles of financial literacy, college expectations, college adjustment, etc.  Conversely, non-first-generation college students have the auspicious advantage of having parental advice that is knowledgeable about the college experience and social scene.  Consequently, first-generation college students from the start of college face more barriers than any other student entering higher education. However, first-generation college students try to circumvent these challenges by seeking advice from current students at their college.

As a first-generation college student, I attempted to mitigate the sense of not knowing how to prepare for college by seeking the advice of William and Mary students.  Before arriving on campus, I asked current students, “What is your advice for freshman students at William and Mary?”  Consistently, I would get the same response—“Prepare yourself for the academic rigor of William and Mary.”  Retrospectively, this advice demonstrated to me that academics at my school were indeed challenging.  Yet, looking back at my first year of college, it was not academics that were challenging for me.  My first year of college was challenging because I was a first-generation college student trying to adjust and find my community within a predominantly White institution (PWI).

When I arrived on campus for move-in day, orientation aids would shout to everyone through their megaphones, “Welcome to the Tribe.”  This benign statement has become a reminder of the challenges I faced to discover my “tribe” in my first year of college as a first-generation college student.  Upon analysis, the word “tribe” denotes an aspect in which a person is incorporated into a collective group because he or she exhibits social, economic, and cultural values that coincide with the group’s characteristics.  This seemingly innocuous statement, in fact, has a preconceived notion that those who come to William and Mary fit a particular type of mold that has led to them being accepted on campus.  Yet, I, in stark contrast, did not match the characteristics of the student population as a first-generation college student.

I am different from my peers because of my underrepresented status on campus.  In simple terms, to be underrepresented is to be a student that is not typically represented not only on campus (William and Mary) but in higher education in general.  For example, the student population for my class (2023) is 1,540 students.  Out of those 1,540 students, only 37 percent are Students of Color, and 10 percent are only first-generation college students.  These statistics demonstrate that first-generation college students and Students of Color are underrepresented at William and Mary since they constitute less than 50 percent of the student population for my class.  The reality of these statistics became evident to me when I was only 2 out of 148 residents in my hall that were Hispanic, whereas the rest of the residents were predominately White.  Moreover, I felt my distinguishing factor on campus when I was often the only Hispanic student in predominantly White classrooms.  The reality of these statistics not only became evident for me on campus, but they also became challenging in my journey in adjusting to college.

It was the first time in my life where I felt that my differential characteristics made it challenging for me to connect to the student population on campus.  My status as a first-generation college student made it cumbersome for me to connect to the residents of my hall who were from upper socioeconomic backgrounds than me.  I, respectfully, could not relate to their experiences in private educations, their exuberant summer vacations, and neither could I relate to their parents’ “success” in white-collar jobs.  Instead, I am a second-generation immigrant, from a public school background, trying to bring upward intergenerational mobility to my family.  Importantly, I want to make my education worthwhile to my blue-collar parents that have sacrificed a significant portion of their lives working in laborious jobs to see me walk, live, and learn in one of the most prestigious schools in Virginia.  The inability to connect with my peers on campus made me feel isolated at the start of college; it even led to me questioning my purpose on campus. Nevertheless, the sensation of isolation that I was feeling was a common phenomenon that occurs to underrepresented students in predominantly White institutions.

Surprisingly, it was through a psychology class in my first year of college that I found a label to the sense of isolation that I felt as a first-generation college student.  Before coming to William and Mary, my freshman advisor recommended that I take a course called Underrepresented Scholars in Academy, a psychology course that explains the historical and contemporary obstacles faced by underrepresented groups in higher education, especially Students of Color and first-generation college students.  I was hesitant to take this course because it did not relate to my government major; however, I took it because it fulfills one of my graduating requirements.  Nonetheless, this class surprised me in how impactful it was in understanding the sense of isolation I felt on campus.  In our first lectures, Professor Dickter, psychologist, described that underrepresented students face a common phenomenon called solo status.  She defined solo status as a psychological situation where an individual feels isolated from the majority population because he or she cannot relate to its culture, race, or gender.  Through this series of lectures, I understood that my sense of isolation was a psychological phenomenon that afflicts millions of underrepresented students in PWIs across the United States.

As our end of semester project for this class, Professor Dickter assigned us to create a web presentation that would help future underrepresented students on campus.  I decided to create a resource that all first-generation college students at William and Mary (W&M) could access; thus, I created the W&M First-Gen. website to provide students with a source of help that  1) defines what a first-generation college student is; 2) identifies common obstacles that first-generation college students face; 3) resources at W&M to overcome these obstacles; 4) and internet resources.  Through the creation of this website, I learned that my purpose at William and Mary is to create a community for first-generation college students.  I came into the mindset that I would find my “tribe” immediately; instead, I learned that some communities have to be built by individuals that have the means to be advocates for their community.  In other words, I have made it my mission to serve as a spokesperson for first-generation college students at William and Mary.  We are a small community, but we also seek to be recognized, assisted, and celebrated at William and Mary.  In sum, I have realized that if your identified community is not recognized, assisted, or celebrated, you need to take the leadership position to be a proponent in its community-building process.

       While I came into William and Mary with the mindset of studying government, I have put into use my government major into action.  Since the creation of my website, a recently recognized student organization called First-Generation-Low Income (FGLI) asked me to become part of their advocacy group for first-generation college students at William and Mary.  Now serving as an advocacy committee member, I am at the forefront of planning events and resources targeted at my community.  So far, I have expanded the outreach of FGLI by incorporating their information, mission, and fundraising information to my website.  Although this organization is at its infancy, I am proud to be an individual that can be the middleman and representative of my community that communicates needs to the leadership of William and Mary.  Thus, this committee has demonstrated to me, as a government major, that change is possible when a community works collectively.

       Currently, our community seeks to petition William and Mary to be an active donor of  FGLI’s fundraiser campaign that aims to provide first-generation college students support initiatives, such as empowerment sessions, through the funds generated in this campaign.  With the growing voice of our community, we hope to make first-generation college students transition to William and Mary more smooth sailing than mine.  It is my hope that through FGLI we can provide incoming and current first-generation, low-income students the sense of community I have found.  I believe that FGLI’s community-building is vital in minimizing or even eliminating imposter syndrome for FGLI students. 

(This essay was submitted to a scholarship program. Some parts of the essay were modified to focus on the FGLI attribute.)

William and Mary: Time Management Advice for Incoming College Students

Written by Orley Estrada

TEDx: Pomodoro Technique

Time is the most valued resource for humans. Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has tried to keep the measurement of time precisely. As past societies learned, the number of hours in a day dictates the amount of work one can accomplish. Time’s fleeting quality compelled civilizations such as the Egyptians to create sundials to manage their time efficiently. Despite the advances in measuring time accurately, modern-day human beings still struggle with managing time’s transitory nature. This dilemma is most apparent in freshmen college students like me who have to balance their time between extracurriculars, family, academics, etc. Therefore, I believe that a college student’s time management skills are paramount to their success not only in academics but in life.

To gain time-management skills, a student must become aware of the task and activities they must accomplish.  As a result, my first action plan was to create a set schedule that would encompass my academic and personal activities.  Before creating my set schedule, I had to decide whether it would be created on paper or virtually.  On one hand, the paper planner would be preferable since I can easily edit and reorganize tasks without the hassle of technological issues.  Additionally, the process of writing tasks would increase my likelihood to remember them, which is an added benefit.  On the other hand, a virtual planner would be more advantageous because there is a lesser chance of losing it; I can always access it through Google Calendar. There’s also the added benefit that a Google Calendar can remind me of activities through alerts on my computer and phone.

Both options have their risk and benefits, and I decided to use both because they served two distinct functions.  For instance, my Google Calendar is used for long-term scheduling throughout my academic year.   Whereas, my paper planner is used for short-term scheduling events in my week.  Creating my Google Calendar was time-consuming since I had to type all my due dates from my syllabi into my calendar.  I also had to place all of my personal and academic appointments.  Although it was tedious, I knew that a long-term schedule would make it simple for me to plan my weekly activities on my paper planner.  Moreover, the creation of these schedules has improved my time-management skills because I am not only aware of my tasks and activities, but I know it will provide structure throughout my daily life.  I plan to evaluate the impact of these schedules on my time-management skills by seeing throughout the semester if it has reduced time conflicts and increased my awareness of due dates.

Constructing my schedules reminded me of the short and long-term goals that I want to accomplish this semester.  Several of my peers have mentioned that they’ve already created their four-year plan.  Their long-term planning has motivated me to create my own personalized four-year plan.  This plan is beneficial to me since it will provide clear guidance on classes to take.  It will ensure that I’m not misusing my time by taking unneeded classes.  Once I complete a rough draft of my four-year plan, I’ll arrange a meeting with my pre-major advisor, and he’ll certify the accuracy of it.  With that being said, my second short-term goal is to meet all of my professors in their office hours.  So far, I’ve met three out of five of them.  In order to accomplish this goal, I plan to send these professors an email with a Google Calendar invitation, so we can set-up a meeting.  By sending a Google invitation, I’ll be reminded of these meetings and so will my professors.   If professors don’t rely on Google Calendar, I will contact them by email in order to meet them.

Importantly, my long-term goal this semester is to find a balance between my academic and social life. I believe a portion of college students devote more time to their academics rather than their social life, and I am one of them. I believe a portion of college students struggle balancing academics and To eliminate this off balance, I plan to join more clubs on campus.  I’ve already joined the Latin American Student Union, and I’ve met awesome individuals.  Moreover, I want to expand my social group outside my culture.  For this reason, I plan to join the Fermentation Club and the First-Generation, Low-Income organization in order to make more friends that have similar interests and values as me.  Following time management, I’ve decided to set aside one hour each day to these activities, so they don’t interfere with academics.  I’ll assess if these clubs have benefited my social satisfaction by evaluating my contentment.

Through the creation of my schedules, I have gained critical knowledge of the tasks that I need to complete throughout this semester.  Without a set schedule, my semester and daily life would not be managed efficiently.  Not only is a set schedule useful for planning activities, but it also provides a track record of short and long-term goals for college students like me.  From the creation of these action plans, I’ve learned that life as a college student can seem less daunting and stressful if I manage my time effectively.  “Work smarter, not harder” with this phrase, I believe the key to success in college is exceptional time-management skills.

(This essay was written for a college class. Some parts were modified to suit the theme of time management.)

Blog Post Guidelines: FGLI

Written by Orley Estrada

July 9th, 2020

Contributor Jonathan-Ramos and Vanessa Guzman

Cartoon Workplace. Modern Colorful Office. Stock Footage Video ...

The purpose of the FGLI’s Blog Post section is to provide a forum where students (who are FGLI) can give insight and resources to other William and Mary students, especially ones who identify as first-generation, low-income college students. FGLI writers, for example, can write about their personal experiences as a first-generation, low-income student on campus. Similarly, students can provide insight into the application process for various scholarships, programs, organizations, etc. Students have a broad potential for writing anything that they like. However, all stories should focus on the FGLI attribute. The following guidelines should all be completed in order for a particular story/blog to be published on this website.

1) Blog Post Idea: Proposing Phase

  • Before writing a blog post, first-generation, low-income students college students should contact one of the executive board members (located on the Team tab).
  • At least two board members should agree that the proposed blog post idea is deemed worthy of publication.
  • Once the blog post idea is agreed upon, the student can proceed to write his or her blog post idea.
  • It would be ideal for the student, with the proposed idea, to provide the FGLI executives an outline of the proposed blog post. Not only will this blog post help executives see the potential of the story, but it will also ensure that the student is prepared to write the story/blog post.

2) General Guidelines: Drafting Phase

  • Blog posts or stories on FGLI’s website can be anonymous. FGLI believes that providing anonymity to all students is vital in ensuring that students can provide their personal experiences on campus.
  • Furthermore, blog posts or stories on FGLI’s website can also be credited to a particular writer(s)/person(s).
  • All blog posts or stories should have a title that relates to the topic.
  • All blog posts or stories should only focus on one topic. Having too many topics will not only confuse the reader, but it will also make the story/post long.
  • All blog posts or stories should have a date of publication, name of the writer(s) (If anonymous, it needs to state this.), and credit should be given to editors or contributors.
  • Blogs can be written in any way. However, all blog posts should be written in paragraph form.
  • All blog posts or stories should have a short synopsis of the topic at hand.
  • There is no limit to how long your blog post can be. However, we do recommend that blog posts should not be longer than 2-3 pages (single-spaced).
  • All blog posts and stories should be in Times New Roman and 12-point font. It can either be in single-spaced or double-spaced.
  • Stories can have photos or graphics. However, make sure that these images are audience-appropriate.
  • Give credit to all sources when needed.

3) General Guidelines: Revising/Publication Phase

  • Before publication, all blog posts and stories should be proofread. Therefore, we recommend that all blog posts and stories should be read by at least one editor. This will ensure that your story is crafted well.
  • We will not accept stories that are not edited and peer read.
  • Once the final draft is proofread, it must be read by at least one executive member.
  • If the story is approved by that particular executive member, the story can be published.

Specific Guidelines:

  • Stories or posts told in the first person should tell personal accounts, not the accounts of others.
  • All stories or posts should be honest and accurate.
  • All observations made by first-hand accounts should be truthful to the best ability of the writer.
  • No writing will be accepted that partakes and hints to ad hominem attacks.
  • No writing will be accepted that libels the reputation of a person, organization, institutions, etc.
  • Second account stories should be approved by the first-hand witnesses(s). This will ensure that the story is told accurately.
  • Stories should not mislead the audience.
  • If any of these specific guidelines are not followed or maintained, writers shall be banned from the platform. They shall appear on the banned list.

The following guidelines were approved by the executive board on August 3rd, 2020.