Navigating Through College as a First-Generation Student, Part II

By: David

From the previous post I had written, I took up on the concept of the experiences of first-generation students (FGS) and decided that I would elaborate on my own experiences as a first-generation student. From the previous post, I mentioned the two ways that helped me through college were: (1) capitalizing on campus resources & opportunities and (2) connecting with staff and faculty. Today, I’ll be exploring on two more ways that really helped me in navigating through college. With that being said, let’s dive in!

Navigating as First Gen 2

Finding a Social Network
For any student entering college, it is crucial to connect with a community or group of individuals who they can socialize and find support within. As an FGS, it becomes especially difficult since there is no prior knowledge of the college environment and thus creates a barrier in finding a social network to connect with. Fortunately, most college campuses give students the opportunity to find social networks to get involved in, whether it’s Greek Life, student organizations, academic opportunities, employment, etc.

For me personally, the most difficult part about finding social networks was actually connecting with other students. Granted, I came to college and roomed with 3 of my friends from high school, but I still had the desire to branch out and network with other students. Finding a social network was not easy and required a lot of trial and error. After my first Student Activities Fair, I was so excited to join the various organizations I had interacted with, but was quite disappointed when attending many of their meetings and events because I simply didn’t feel like I belong. My turning point came when I made the effort to get involved with the Multicultural Center. As a student of color myself, there were a lot of similarities I could identify with and reasons to get involved. It truly helped me find a social network with Asian Pacific American Association (which I have mentioned about numerous times in previous blog posts!). To segway into my next point, what worked best for me in terms of expanding my social networks was to get involved on campus!

Getting Involved!
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know by now that I am a HUGE advocate for getting involved on campus. Ultimately, my college experience has tremendously shaped my ability to navigate through college. Join a student organization, find on-campus employment, participate in events and activities hosted by the university, and conduct or assist with research in your academic department. These are SOME (many more out there) examples of getting involved on campus. So why get involved you ask? From the previous 3 points (capitalizing on opportunities, connecting with staff & faculty, finding social networks) I made in this blog series, getting involved is the best way to tie all of these together. I say this because through getting involved you pretty much cover all three areas and it is something tangible, or an action that anyone can make in terms of navigating through college.

My first year coming into college, I recall seeing a poster (you know, those inspirational quotes with the pretty pictures?) in a staff member’s office that greatly shaped my college philosophy. The poster quoted, “build bridges, not walls” and it had the most mesmerizing picture of a bridge I’ve ever seen. My point is, after reading that quote along with the captivating bridge, my philosophy was (and still is) to connect with as many students, staff, and faculty as I could before graduating. In doing so, I took up as many positions and opportunities as I could to branch out and expand my horizon of knowledge. In truth, this required me having to step outside my comfort zones and it was difficult at first I’ll admit; but as I reflect on my experiences, those moments of insecurity and vulnerability only allowed me to grow at a rapid rate professionally and personally. Being first-generation, it didn’t help that I didn’t have the knowledge or capabilities to interact and connect with others as I had wished, and often times I didn’t know what I needed or wanted to know. Life was rough, I tell ya. Fortunately, direct experience in leadership positions and active involvement really gave me a deep sense of knowledge and skills.

Conclusion
To wrap things up, I want to say that I am aware and sensitive to the fact that these four ways of navigating through college as an FGS might not be for everyone and that there are a lot of other ways to do so. By keeping things broad, I hope it helps push you to find your own way in succeeding throughout college. On a side note, I have come to observe the relationship between first-gen students and the university (campus life programs, academic programs, etc.). My conclusion is that the two have to meet in the middle. Students need to take an active role in securing (or at least attempt) these opportunities and services offered and be willing to step outside their comfort zones. On the flipside, the university needs to actively promote their services so students know what’s available to them and in addition, explicitly state their sensitivity and awareness of first-generation students.

My final tip for other first-generation students in navigating through college is this: be humble and open-minded. As an FGS, I understand that there is, to some degree, a sense of pride in NOT seeking help or assistance when struggling. The source of pride may vary from student to student, but it definitely exists. Furthermore, it is important to be vulnerable and allow room for constructive criticism and learning moments for your growth. This is more of a life tip, but keep your thoughts open to different perspectives to further expand your own and reserve judgement until proven. Stay warm Bulldogs!

Read David’s other posts

Photo source: Unsplash | Richard Tilney-Bassett

Trust Me, There’s a Club for That

By: Cassie

What is the one thing that you remember most about touring colleges? Was it the size of the dorms? Was it the food served in the dining hall? Was it that the school had the program that you really wanted to be accepted to? Well for me it was all summed up into just two simple words, GET INVOLVED. Every college I went to and every tour guide I talked to talked about the advantages of involving yourself in clubs and activities on campus. By the end of my college hunt I felt like I knew every club at every school and I felt like I was the fountain of “get involved” knowledge, so to speak. Well, when I finally got here I didn’t use my so-called “knowledge” like I should have.

There's a club

During my freshman year, I told myself that I would put myself out there and get involved in everything I could. I went to the activities fairs and thought I knew what all my options were based on the information from the tours. Then when the time came to sign up for all these clubs, I just simply didn’t join. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint the reason that I wouldn’t push myself to get involved, but I think it was mostly that I made a lot of excuses for myself. Some of these included wanting to do well on my homework, being scared to meet new people, and overall just feeling dorky for joining something I had no previous friends in. The funny thing is, most of the time I just sat and did routine Netflix marathons and didn’t acknowledge my homework during that time. I also didn’t branch out and make new friends, I stuck with my high school friends and really I was kind of miserable. I wasn’t getting all the things that I thought I would be getting out of my freshman year. I saw everyone else with new friends and having the time of their lives, so this year I decided to make a change.

I am currently in my sophomore year, and this year I have involved myself in more ways than I can count. I have really immersed myself in the business school and the clubs that it offers because I think it is so important to get involved in clubs that relate to your major. I am currently in Women in Business and the Student Healthcare Management Association. They have taught me the value of putting yourself out there and getting yourself involved with people in the business field. This doesn’t just apply to business majors either; I cannot emphasize enough how important networking is for EVERY MAJOR. It is also great to get involved with clubs in your major or collegiate unit because you can get together and talk about your fears, struggles, and your future because they are all in the same boat as you and talking is one of the most beneficial things you can do! I also was recently accepted into a study abroad program through the business school and I am so excited to see all of the new opportunities it brings me.

I know I am just highlighting the clubs in the business school, but I promise you that your collegiate unit has a club too. In fact, they most likely have one for your major! If you don’t want to get involved with clubs in your major, there are SO many other clubs and activities that are out there for you to get involved in, you just have to be willing to find what you like! Don’t be like freshman year me and take your opportunities for granted! Though I never thought I would emphasize it this much, there is so much to be gained from GETTING INVOLVED.

Of Possible Interest: 

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Photo source: Unsplash|Jeff Sheldon

Greek Life at UMD

By: Logan

At most college campuses Greek Life is a big topic. Every movie about college displays Greek Life in one way or another, for better or for worse. These organizations are as old as the University itself and the traditions continue to strive. In this post you will learn how Greek Life organizations help improve the campus and surrounding community, and how joining a Fraternity or Sorority can help you and your college experience.

First, let me give some background on fraternities and sororities as a whole. Greek Life systems have been around since the 1800’s at many universities around the world. The basic concept of a Fraternity or Sorority is a unified body of students dedicated to service and making long lasting relationships. Many people get the impression that Greek organizations are strictly devoted to partying and nothing else. This persona is usually displayed in college movies such an Animal House and The Neighbors. It is disappointing that people have this expectation for Greek Life because there are many benefits and experiences that can be had by joining one of these organizations.

UMD’s Greek Life consists of five fraternities and four sororities. The Fraternities list as follows: Phi Kappa Tau (which I am currently a member of), Tau Kappa Epsilon, Phi Kappa Psi, Alpha Delta, and Alpha Nu Omega. The sororities are Phi Sigma Sigma, Gamma Sigma Sigma, Beta Lambda Psi, and Kappa Beta Gamma. I have been involved with UMD Greek Life since Fall of my freshman year and I have had many great experiences from it. Greek Life has 3 main areas of focus: Social, Service, and Philanthropy. This means that our organizations are involved in Social aspects, such as meeting and getting to know other Fraternities or Sororities; Service, which involves our volunteering and work hours; and Philanthropy, which is the raising and donating of money to charitable organizations.

The media only tends to show the social aspect of Greek Life, but they never talk about our service and philanthropy events. Most organizations have their members complete a certain number of service hours per semester to show that they are doing volunteer work in the college or community. Another stereotype of Greek Life members is that they are not as involved in their studies and academics. This is very untrue. Almost all of the organizations require everyone to have a certain GPA to join, and if their grades fall too low they will be put on probation or even kicked out of the group. This holds members to a higher standard and requires them to concentrate on school before concentrating on other Greek Life events. Fraternities and Sororities are also a great way to get involved in leadership positions. Each Greek Organization has multiple positions that the members can run for, almost like Student Government. So any member can gain great Leadership skills by running for and being a leadership position holder. Fraternities and Sororities are also great for networking. Since many Greek Organizations on campus are very old, some members still live in the area and can help by donating money or just from networking. Larger organizations have multiple chapters across the country which is also very beneficial for networking. To help with this, the organizations plan big leadership events that all chapters can attend. There members can learn valuable leadership and networking skills that can benefit them in the future.

As you can see, there are many benefits to joining a Greek Organization. It can be helpful for building your resume, or just making your college experience more enjoyable. I strongly recommend any student that is interested in leadership, service, and brotherhood (or sisterhood), to come meet the Fraternities or Sororities and learn more about them. You can also learn more about the organizations by looking under Student Organizations in Campus Life on the UMD home page.

Of Possible Interest: 

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Don’t Get Stuck: A College Student’s Guide, Part 2

By: Glen

A fear that many people have is being stuck with a “dead-end” job. This is why more and more people are attending college. The expectations of today are that people need a college degree (or more) to get the job they want. Unfortunately, running off to college and getting a degree is not the cure-all to avoid being stuck. If this is true, what is the answer? This is the second in a series of posts to help give some ideas for what to do while at college to give you an advantage in the world.

Don't get stuck

Explore The Unknown

My first post in this series discussed joining student organizations. Besides building resumes, joining an organization also aids in the networking aspect of advancement. When trying to brainstorm organizations to join, try to think outside the box. It is nice to be involved in at least one organization that is something you know you enjoy; however, college is a great time to try and expand your horizons, and learn some new skills. For some people, trying new things is easy. Whether it comes easy or not, continuing to grow as a human being is important to not getting stuck. I brought up student organizations again, because there are definitely chances to reach out and learn new skills in different student groups. If you see something that might interest you, but you are unsure about, try it out!

There are many more things to try in college; you never know when you will find something meaningful.

Here is a short list of things to try:

  • Study Abroad
  • Take a class for fun
  • Run for a leadership position in a club
  • Make friends with people from different cultures
  • Join those friends’ cultural organizations!
  • Become involved in a professor’s work (research or performance)
  • Apply for work just because it sounds fun

“Some of those ideas do not seem like things that can get me a job…” That statement is correct, in a small sense. A lot of these experiences will not lead directly to a full-time job out of college; however, they will help you develop your transferable skill set. Study abroad can help you gain the confidence to try new things, and be open minded. Taking a class for fun will aid you in your knowledge base, which never hurts. Holding a club leadership position puts responsibility on your shoulders, strengthening your leadership skills. Making friends with people from different cultures will open your world, in a similar way Study Abroad does, especially if you become active in their cultural activities. Becoming involved in a professor’s work can give you real-world experience, and a professional colleague. Applying for jobs that sound interesting can aid you in finding what in the world you want to do with your life!

I will end this post in the same manner I ended my first one: if you don’t want to get stuck, don’t sit still. Be proactive. Expand your horizons. All of those clichés are applicable. Whatever you do: don’t do nothing.

Read Glen’s other posts

Don’t Get Stuck: A College Student’s Guide, Part 1

By: Glen

A fear that many people have is being stuck with a “dead-end” job. This is why more and more people are attending college. The expectations of today are that people need a college degree (or more) to get the job they want. Unfortunately, running off to college and getting a degree is not the cure-all to avoid being stuck. If this is true, what is the answer? In my next few blog posts, I will give some ideas for what to do while at college to give you an advantage in the world.

Teamwork road sign

Find Student Organizations

Just do it. Even if an organization is not directly related to what you want to do in life, they show that you are doing something with your life. You can even try new things. It is entirely possible that you can find a new skill or passion by doing so. For example, joining a service fraternity or sorority can be more helpful than you think. That’s right, I said joining a fraternity or sorority can be helpful. Maybe you never considered joining a Greek organization. Consider it! Service organizations (especially) can create a bond with the community that can help students build a resume.

If community service is not your favorite activity, there are many options available that can still aid in the purpose of not getting stuck. Do you like planning? Join an organization on campus that is dedicated to organizing activities for students. Those planning skills are transferrable to almost any situation. Want to learn about a career field? Join an organization that is connected to a department on campus. Groups like Psychology Club, Chemistry Club, Marketing Club, and etc. can provide a fun networking atmosphere while helping students see what kinds of professions are available in the field. Want to stay fit? Joining sports clubs are still activities that can be put on a resume! Applying time to maintain your physical health is a life skill, and employers admire the dedication. One more thing, don’t forget to practice your team work skills if you are on a team! There are too many options to list; if you are still looking for something, keep brainstorming.

To find all the student organizations at UMD, connect with the Kirby Student Center.

You may have noticed there is a recurring theme here: if you don’t want to get stuck, don’t sit still. Be proactive. Expand your horizons. All of those clichés are applicable. Whatever you do: don’t do nothing.

Photo source