First-generation BC sophomore Kae'la Powell-Cobbs '25, juniors Ricardo Mora and Sebastian Cota '24, and senior Angeles Cruz are among the 1,040 Boston College undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college. (Caitlin Cunningham)
Beginning November 4, Boston College will hold a week of activities and events to recognize and honor its first-generation students and alumni, highlighted by the national observance of First-Generation College Celebration Day on November 8.
Organized by the Learning to Learn program, BC’s First-Gen Week will include a Kick-Off Classic Tailgate on November 4 at 3 p.m. prior to that evening’s BC-Duke football game; a First-Gen Study Break Celebration at the Connell School of Nursing at noon on November 7; and a First-Gen Alumni Panel on November 10 from 6-8 p.m. in the McElroy Faculty Dining Room. BC’s National First-Gen College Celebration Day on November 8 will be from 5-7 p.m. in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons.
In addition, Learning to Learn is sponsoring a photo campaign through its Instagram page to create more visibility for first-gen members of the University community.
Information on all First-Gen Week-related programming will be available at bc.edu/learning-to-learn.
“Celebrating First Generation College week puts the spotlight on students who are trailblazers, and who have a strong desire to go for their dreams . . . Being the first to attain a college degree changes the trajectory of first-gen students’ lives and the lives of generations to come.”
Organizers say the week is an opportunity to highlight first-gen achievements and contributions, as well as the University’s commitment to those who are the first in their families to attend college, for which BC has been nationally recognized by the Center for First-Generation Student Success.
“Celebrating First Generation College week puts the spotlight on students who are trailblazers, and who have a strong desire to go for their dreams,” said Learning to Learn Director Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey. “They have so much to offer and much to achieve, and their path to get into and graduate from college marks an important milestone in their lives and the lives of their families exponentially. Being the first to attain a college degree changes the trajectory of first-gen students’ lives and the lives of generations to come.
“There is a plethora of first-gen success stories that include lawyers, doctors, business executives, and prominent public figures such as senators and members of Congress. The numbers are growing at BC and Learning to Learn is here to support students through our various programs and celebrate these important steps that first-gen students take to make a brighter future for themselves.”
Being a first-generation student “serves as a direct contradiction to the status quo,” said Kae’la Powell-Cobbs ’25, a psychology and neuroscience major from Brockton, Mass.
“With my intersectionality as an African-American, first-generation student, and woman, I’ve been assigned traits from a society that has contributed to the normalization of people of color not achieving higher education. Over time this has created a gap between many marginalized groups and college success. I often times imagine myself as one of the many bricks added to the continuation of a path that will eventually bridge that gap.”
Powell-Cobbs said her time at BC has been enriched through the “transformative relationships” she has cultivated with other first-gen students.
“It is very easy, especially at an institution like BC, to feel like I am the only person who struggles to navigate the tips and tricks of college. However, when I realized that there were so many accomplished students, staff, and other members of the BC community who either are experiencing, or have experienced adversity through inexperience, I feel welcomed—and most importantly, empowered.”
A look at statistics, programs, and resources related to first-generation students at BC:
•The current first-gen undergraduate population is 1,040, with an average of about 250-260 enrolling each year; first-gen students make up 10 percent of the Class of 2025, 10.5 percent of the current freshman class.
•The BC F1RST College Transition Program—a free, two-week, residential summer program that originated in 2001—serves approximately 40 first-gen students a year.
•Sixteen students are currently participating in the BC F1RST Living Learning Community, based in Hardey Hall on Newton Campus, which provides a variety of programs, activities, and services to help members connect with fellow first-generation, first-year college students, staff, faculty, and administrators.
•The University’s Pine Manor Institute for Student Success was established in 2020 to enhance educational opportunities for underrepresented and first-generation students. PMI is an umbrella organization for Learning to Learn (established in 1978) and other academic support and student volunteer initiatives, including Options Through Education and Montserrat. This year, PMI launched The Academy, a summer enrichment program and school-year tutoring service for students in grades 8-12, and in 2024 is slated to open Messina College, a two-year college division of BC that will grant associate degrees.
•Learning to Learn hosts the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, which prepares low-income and first-gen students as well as underrepresented populations for graduate studies in a variety of fields. This past summer, BC received a five-year $1.3-million McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Grant to assist aspiring graduate students, with emphasis on attaining a doctoral degree.
Atlanta native Angeles Cruz ’23, who majors in theology and applied psychology and human development, said being a first-gen student is “a huge accomplishment” that carries with it many challenges, such as “navigating college alone or questioning your own potential.” She cited campus resources such as Learning to Learn, the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, and Montserrat as invaluable: “These offices have provided me with faculty, mentors, and peers—a community—that continuously support me through my undergraduate experience.”
Sebastian Cota ’24 of Los Angeles, who is in the Global Public Health program, compared being a first-gen student to “a pioneer or a trail blazer.” Although it is challenging at times, he said, “I guide myself by my goals and aspirations. That is what keeps me moving forward. For me, moving across the country to a new state and city was a big step, but I was ready for the challenge.”
Cota said some of his positive experiences at BC have included two Enduring Questions courses he took his first year on Healthcare Economics and the Policy of Healthcare. “These are very unique courses that combine multiple disciplines to learn about a topic and are discussion based, so we were always examining current events relative to the course content and I learned so much. Additionally, this past summer I had the opportunity to take a course in Paris and London comparing the health care systems of France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.”
He also pointed to the three-year internship he started last fall at Boston Children’s Hospital as a medical scribe working in the Gastroenterology Department through the SCRIPT Mentorship Program. “I came to Boston in search of opportunity, specifically in health care as I know Boston is a city with many of the best hospitals and graduate schools for medicine and public health. Through this internship, I play an important role in patient care through transcribing information into electronic health records for each patient encounter.”
The people he has met at BC have been yet another source of fulfillment: “Everyone has something unique to contribute as everyone comes from different backgrounds, experiences, and locations—whether other states or other countries. All of these interactions and conversations are what help me call BC home.”
Sean Smith | University Communications | November 2022