First-generation college students, support staff offer insight, advice

Cornell University
Nov 8 · 5 min read

First-generation students bring a unique perspective to their educational experience at Cornell, and the university is committed to fostering opportunities for them to thrive and build community with fellow students through a variety of programs and resources. Below are insights and advice from several first-generation Cornell students and staff.

Dariana Argueta-Zamora ’22

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

To be a first-generation college student means you possess a unique strength and resilience that keeps you moving forward. Sometimes you are your own support system and have to rely on yourself to overcome challenges. But along the way you discover that you’re not alone and there is a whole community of people that you can find comfort and support in, such as the first-generation community on campus. The beauty in being a first-gen is that everything you do carries a double purpose. Not only are you working to make yourself proud, but also your family who didn’t have the same opportunities.

Britney Rivera-Martinez ’23

School of Hotel Administration

Being [a] first-generation [student] means creating a path that was not there before in order to uplift members of my community.

Advice: The advice I would offer is to take the time to reconnect with yourself. Don’t lose sight of who you are and where your interests lie.

Graduate School

To be a first-generation college student means [being] a trailblazer for higher education. It means persisting through adversity in order to achieve something that has never been achieved before by your family. It means breaking generational curses, leading to better outcomes for future generations. Overall, it means embracing that you are resilient, unique and capable in achieving anything that you can put your mind to.

Jaylen Perkins, MPH ’22

Advice: To first-generation college students: Know that you’re not alone. This process is not meant to be journeyed alone and you are not the first to navigate it. Lean on your support systems, find mentors and embrace this experience. You deserve to be here!

Jami P. Joyner

College of Engineering

Being a first-generation college student meant that I was investing in and advancing my family’s contributions to my success as well as my community.

Advice: Always bet on yourself because you are empirical evidence of resilience. Additionally, I encourage first-generation college students to constantly pose questions and inquire to peers, staff and faculty about their experiences and ways to navigate the academic milieu.

College of Engineering

Being a first-generation student is the essence of creating a future for me and my community, molding a future of security and beautiful uncertainty. Before we are aware of life we are judged and pre-selected as detriments to society, but pursuing higher education demonstrates grit and untapped talents of people who are often left behind, but can become the highest contributors to society.

Dory Peters, Ph.D.

Advice: My advice, as cheesy as it may be, is to always push forward. Your sacrifices will become a silver lining to a wonderful future.

Shawn Felton.

Office of Undergraduate Admissions

Having been a first-generation college student, I am always reminded that I am confident, independent, hard-working and resilient.

Advice: My advice to other first-generation college students is to stay courageous and always be your own best advocate.

Jailene Sinchi ’25

College of Arts and Sciences

Being first-gen gave me the opportunity of appreciating the privilege of education, the privilege of overcoming barriers [and], overall, appreciating the struggles we had to overcome to go to college. Being first-gen is not an anchor that pulls me down. Rather, it serves as inspiration to create the life my parents did not get the chance to make, and I hope to leave a legacy in the world that wasn’t destined for us.

Advice: If I could go back and give advice to myself and the thousands of first-gen students, I would applaud them on their efforts of using the gift they were given, and emphasize that our discipline and work ethic will more than fill in the gap of socioeconomic inequality. We belong here, and we are here to stay. We were brought to follow our passion in whatever field we desire, [and] to demonstrate that, with a strong motivation and work ethic, we can achieve the impossible.

Christine Thompson

College of Arts and Sciences

To be first-gen is to be a trailblazer — to set your own path, write your own story.

Advice: Never lose sight of who you are, even as you grow and evolve, and stay true to your own inner voice.

Content originally appeared in a First-Generation College Celebration piece produced by Student and Campus Life.

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