UVM Firsts works to create a space for current and future first-generation students

January 28, 2022

As another semester begins and students return to campus, first-generation college students can find a comforting space in one of UVM’s new clubs: UVM Firsts. 

UVM Firsts was created to support first-generation students. The club’s goals are to cultivate an environment intended to help students find resources to help them in their college education. The club was made official by SGA over summer 2021 said junior Morgan Rodgers, president of the club.

Rodgers, who is also a first-generation student, said first-generation students may lack awareness of opportunities presented to all students because their parents did not receive a degree.

“First gens have a unique experience going into college because it’s usually a very independent process getting there, we aren’t always aware of the resources available to us,” Rodgers said. “Just being able to have that space to help guide each other is really important.”

At UVM, being a first-generation student means neither of your parents have a four-year degree from a U.S. institution, said Dami Comey, director for the center for academic success.

Senior Zyakkiriah Rhoden, founder and treasurer of the club, said being first generation and a student of color who attends a primarily white and wealthy university creates additional challenges. 

“I didn’t have the experience of my parents telling me what they did in college,” Rhoden said. “My parents are immigrants and they never had to fill out the FAFSA, so it was hard applying and then also navigating once I got here.”

Having a space where students can find comfort is an important part of the club, Rodgers said.

“We just wanted a space on campus where we can uplift each other’s successes and bond over a shared identity,” Rodgers said. 

People are often unaware of the definition of a first-generation student, Comey said.

“One of the club’s goals is to increase their visibility and membership,” Comey said. “Many students don’t know what it means to be first gen and it is not uncommon for first gen students to think that they don’t belong in that category.”

The club is also working on creating a strong foundation so that students in the future already have a place where they can go if they need help, Rhodes said.

Rhoden said because SGA has fundraising requirements for all of its clubs, there is a year-long wait period between creating a club and applying for SGA funding. 

“Right now we are in that gap of waiting to apply for funding,” Rhoden said. “We do have supplemental funding and that is something that we’ll be utilizing a lot.”

Along with the supplemental funding, UVM Firsts receives help from the Center for Academic Success, to plan events and activities for the club, Rhoden said. 

“We share resources, from scholarship opportunities to CAPS drop-in hours or things that you think all students on campus should know,” Rhoden said. “We like to de-stress, talk about our identities, our meetings are free flowing and depend on what members come to us with that day.”

UVM Firsts meets biweekly in the Mosaic Center classroom on Monday nights from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Students interested in the club should reach out through their Instagram @uvmfirsts.

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