UCI Student Success Initaitives First-Gen staff pose in the photo booth

(Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI) Ballet Folklórico performs at First-Gen Day 2022.

On November 8, UCI Student Success Initiatives (SSI) partnered with the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), the Center for First-generation Student Success, and other institutions of higher education across the country to celebrate the sixth annual First-Generation College Celebration

Since 2017, the First-Generation College Celebration has commemorated the passing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which increased access to higher education for low-income and first-generation populations. This day of celebration recognizes the first-generation community and shines a spotlight on their unique challenges, successes, and experiences. The First-Generation College Celebration also highlights the resilience of first-generation students and their success in overcoming the systematic obstacles that complicate their pursuit of postsecondary education.

At UCI, the First-Generation College Celebration was commemorated with a campuswide First-Gen Day Celebration. Hosted by SSI, this event was dedicated to UCI’s first-generation student population of 14,000+ and the many faculty and staff who were first-generation students themselves.

(Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI) Aerodynamix performs at First-Gen Day 2022.

“The mission of our First-Gen Day Celebration was to acknowledge and celebrate our UCI students, staff, and faculty who identify as first-generation,” explains Brighitte Preciado, SSI Program Director for Student Retention Programs and organizer of this year’s First-Gen Day events.

“The goals for our First-Gen Day were to build and strengthen our community and to share some of the available on-campus resources. We also wanted to recognize the additional challenges faced by our community during the COVID-19 pandemic and embrace the opportunity to bring people together to celebrate their accomplishments and successes.”

First-Gen Day kicked off with a resource fair that invited students to learn about the campus programs and support available to them while participating in fun activities like designing stickers, creating vision boards, playing yard games, and more. This event also featured attractions like prize giveaways, a free photo booth, and live performances from Ballet Folklórico de UCI, VocaLotus, Aerodynamix Acapella, and Hansori.

(Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI) Dean Frances Contreras speaks in the Joseph White Room at the Cross-Cultural Center.

In addition to the main celebration event, SSI hosted several other events with campus partners.  In a special presentation titled “My First-Gen Experience,” Dean of UCI School of Education Frances Contreras, PhD, shared her journey as a first-generation college student who became the first Chicana/Latina Dean to head a School of Education in the University of California system. At the “Transfer Talks: Before I Graduate” event, first-generation transfer students who were getting ready to graduate were invited to connect with each other and discuss important topics regarding the lead-up to graduation. Not only did this event encourage students to share graduation requirements, timelines, and post-graduation plans, but it also strengthened connections and community ties.

Finally, in partnership with the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, SSI hosted a special headshot photo session for first-generation students. This event invited students to visit the ANTrepreneur Center and have free professional headshots taken for them to use on their resumes, CVs, LinkedIn, and other important assets.

(Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI) Students and staff pose in the First-Gen Day photo booth.

Reflecting on the success of UCI’s First-Gen Day Celebration, Joanna Hernandez, Director of SSI, said:

“Our first-generation students are vital members of our UCI community, and we want to celebrate their strength and resiliency. We at SSI know that coming to college as a first-generation student can be a mix of emotions: feeling guilty for leaving family, being intimidated by large classes, or maybe even feeling like an imposter on campus. Too often, these experiences can be intimidating and isolating. First-Gen Day is an excellent reminder that the first-generation experience is shared by many, including students, staff, and faculty. In celebrating these diverse experiences, we help to strengthen our UCI student community as a whole.”

To learn more about the First-Generation College Celebration, visit the COE website. For more information on UCI’s celebration, visit the UCI First Generation website or search #FirstGenUCI, #FirstGenDay, and #UCFirstGen on social media.

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