When Kevin Ly, ’19, and Patricia Morales, ’19, attended LeaderShape this past winter, they discussed the struggles and hardships of first-generation college students. After LeaderShape, they decided to continue the conversation and create an organization to provide a community and resources for first-generation students.
The two began the club and became the co-presidents of First-Generation Initiative Represented by Students and Teachers, also known as F1RST. Ly and Morales said the Center for Academic Success and the Office of the Provost supported the student-driven club.
Jason Slipp, who was also a LeaderShape faculty member, led the first-generation discussion at LeaderShape and now advises the club.
“As I was walking over to the group thinking about what to talk about, I realized I was a first-generation student,” Slipp wrote in an email. “During our talk it was very enlightening to hear about the challenges that first generation students have here at Lehigh — I really had no idea. And when (Ly) came up with the idea to have a club, I thought it was amazing and told him I would be willing to help in any way possible.”
Ly said students sometimes struggle to fill out financial aid forms, purchase textbooks, create a resume and adjust to college life. Morales said the goal is to provide an environment where they can embrace being a first-generation student.
“Many other students, especially here at Lehigh where the socioeconomic gap is evident, should be able to feel comfortable and confident that no matter what his or her background is, that they will be able to get the support they need,” Casey Ching, ’17, wrote in an email.
Bruce Bunnick, the director of the Office of Admissions, said Lehigh defines first-generation students as individuals with a parent or parents who did not attend either a two- or four-year college.
“The way we ascertain that information is that when students complete the Common Application, they have to list parental information and parental education,” he said. “So if there is no information . . . then we tag them in our bases as a first-generation college student.”
Ly and Morales’ idea for F1RST is modeled after Brown University’s first-generation group, 1vyG.
“It’s a lot of things we don’t even think about that we take about for granted, yet that are hurdles for first-generation students,” said Susan Ellis, the director of the academic advising center for the College of Arts and Sciences. “We want to do what we can to help students.”
Morales said students sometimes struggle because they cannot afford the books, which is why F1RST will open a Lending Library, which is an initiative that came from the Brown program. She said the lending library will be a small space in Fairchild-Martindale Library to have students borrow and take out textbooks for the semester. Students can donate books at the end of the semester in bins in the Community Service Office or the Center for Academic Success.
“It is hard for first-generation students to identify with legacy students and others who do not have the same worries and concerns as them . . . that’s why this club is so important,” Slipp wrote. “Students, no matter what their backgrounds may be, need to feel comfortable and supported so that they can focus, explore, and grow while they are here — not worry about if they will be able afford a textbook and what another student may be thinking of them.”