ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Nearly half the student body at the University of New Mexico are “first-generation students” according to First Gen Proud, a collaborative annual event that aims to educate these students about the resources made available to them on campus. Dawn Blue Sky-Hill of UNM’s Student Support Services said they often come across students who aren’t even aware of what the term “first-gen” means. UNM defines the term as being a student whose parents have not obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Gregory Romero, a third-year student at UNM, said he was one of those students. “I thought it was normal for students to not really know what was going on when you start your education career,” Romero said. “A lot of answers to questions have been put in front of me like what I needed to do for FAFSA, figuring out my next year of college and what I’m going to do after I graduate because of CEP and programs like these.”

(Student from 2019 celebration event learning about resources for first-gen students. Photo courtesy of the University of New Mexico)

Romero learned through the UNM College Enrichment Program that he qualified as being a first-generation student. “As a freshman or sophomore who was a first-generation student, I think knowing there are people on our campus willing to invest the time to help you is the biggest step.”

Jaylene Martinez is a UNM alumna and was also a first-generation student. She worked as a peer-mentor through Student Support Services with other first-generation students.

Martinez noticed a difference in the students she mentored after they attended a First Gen Proud event. “They really liked it because they would go into the SUB [Student Union Building] and have conversations with other organizations that also had people like them, who were going through the same kind of struggles,” Martinez said.

Martinez is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado- Boulder, something she never imagined she would do had she not had support and mentors from UNM TRIO Programs. Martinez is also now a peer mentor at her college campus and sometimes sees students who she used to mentor at UNM. “Being able to see them and remind them that they can do it, they can continue their education and move away from home because I did it, was very inspiring,” Martinez said.

Brittany Tabor of the UNM Gallup branch and member of the UNM First Gen Proud Committee said many times there is a negative connotation to the term “first-gen” but hopes to use these now virtual events to make it a positive thing. “I hope all these campuses and departments getting together let students know that they belong on our campuses and that it may not be easy, but they have a whole team to support them,” Tabor said. “You’re a first-gen for life.”

The First Gen Proud celebration on UNM campuses started in 2017. In 1965 legislators wanted specific funding to help non-legacy students gain access to college, so they passed the Higher Education Act.

Sky-Hill says the Higher Education Act is a civil rights-born legislation. “The legislators wanted to figure out a way to level the playing field, so with that comes the student loans, the Pell Grant, Special Student Services, and the TRIO programs,” Sky-Hill said.

The nationally-recognized day for first-generation students is Nov. 8. However, the University of New Mexico and its branch campuses are celebrating throughout the month of November. The First Gen Proud collaborative event joins together TRIO Upward Bound, TRIO Student Support Services, the Ronald E. McNair program, El Centro de la Raza, and the College Enrichment Program. Events during the month-long celebration include guest speakers, activities for students, and a trivia night. For a full list of virtual events, visit the First Gen Proud UNM website.

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