Submitting for college applications, financial aid and scholarship opportunities can be a taxing process. While some students can receive assistance from parents or older siblings who have already gone through higher education, first generation college students have to deal with the pressures of navigating a university by themselves.
This semester, First Gen Club debuted at Long Beach State, an organization dedicated to serving first generation college students. It’s the first student organization of its kind at the university.
Pioneered by students in the GenExcel Club, a group that pairs new students with mentors, members said they wanted to see more opportunities made available for different groups.
“After joining, someone questioned as to why we do not have a club for first generation students, so from there we decided to brainstorm ideas to start off the club fresh and fun for the fall semester,” said Adriana Ortega, First Gen Club secretary.
Ortega, a fourth-year studio arts major, was the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend an institution for higher learning.
Driven by her parents’ lack of formal education, Ortega hopes her academic journey inspires the younger members in her family.
“I want to make the path for others in my family to know that anything is possible,” Ortega said. “I have a younger sister and younger family members in general that they look up to and I advise them to do well in school and to keep going no matter what.”
She decided to join the First Gen Club because she likes getting involved in campus activities and being able to share her experience with people from similar backgrounds.
Like Ortega, president Jose Perez, a second-year business administration major, decided to join to inspire others with similar stories to his.
“I wanted to help individuals who may have a story like mine to succeed in the real world. Many students, as myself, go through hard times,” Perez said. “The reason I wanted to be the president was because I have a plan of reducing drop out rates of first-time freshmen and transfers, as well [as]l I would like to make it a campus wide initiation.”
Perez parents’ didn’t graduate from college. His mom attended a community college to learn fundamental skills such as English and his dad received trade certificates from Long Beach City College.
As an immigrant, Perez said he wanted to create a better life for himself.
Perez decided to attend a four-year university because he wanted to increase his chances of getting a job. As a child, he experienced the devastation of losing a stream of income when his dad was laid off from work.
It wasn’t something he wanted to endure himself.
“Seeing his face coming home to my mom and telling her what happened destroyed him inside,” Perez said. “So, I decided to go to college to get an education and learn strategies that’ll make me a competitive candidate to get a job so I won’t have to experience what my dad did with my own future wife and kids.”
In the future, Perez would like to be his own boss and own an agricultural ranch one day.
First Gen Club member and fourth-year sociology major Estefany Villegas hopes to be an example for her child. She wants to show them that anything is possible.
“… Coming from divorced parents, it [has] motivated me to become someone professional in life so my children won’t have to struggle like I did,” Villegas said.
Villegas heard about the club during the virtual Week of Welcome. She decided to join because the club offers additional resources for her, like finding internships, creating resumes and meeting new people.
Financial aid has proven to be a difficult task for all three students.
Perez pays for school through FAFSA and out of pocket. Ortega pays for school through the Dream Act application and Villegas pays for school entirely through FAFSA.
“It was a little confusing because when I came to CSULB… I tried asking around how to apply but never really had the time to meet with someone. So I applied how I kind of knew and the rest I googled it,” Villegas said.
Regardless of the difficulties that come with being a first generation college student, club members agreed that it’s an accomplishment that they made it this far in their education.
“I can’t stress enough how proud I am of myself on how far I’ve come, but I want to make sure I am on track and graduate in spring 2021,” Villegas said. “I am emotional because I am first gen and it brings me joy and sadness at the same time because I can’t believe through all the obstacles, I am here almost graduating from my dream school and my 3-year-old gets to see his mommy graduate.”