Students recently took place in a “first-gen” networking dinner to commemorate National First-Generation College Day.
On Wednesday, Binghamton University students and alumni gathered in Old Union Hall to celebrate National First-Generation College Day — an annual holiday celebrated on Nov. 8 in honor of the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, according to the website for the Center for First-Generation Student Success.
The networking dinner was a part of a larger series of events centered around BU’s first-generation student population, organized by B-First — an on-campus program that provides mentorship and resources to first-generation students — and the Fleishman Center for Career and Personal Development.
Donald Hall, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, kicked off the event. Hall shared his story as a first-generation college student, describing how he came from a family and high school peer group with little college experience.
“The work that’s going on here at [BU] is critical and necessary and wonderful,” Hall said. “So many of us in my generation had to just sort of stumble and find their own way. I’m thrilled that this event is taking place. It has my full support. You are trailblazers. You are brave and adventurous. And you are going to do great things.”
Throughout the dinner, students were able to converse with first-generation B-First mentors in “speed-dating style,” moving from table to table until they had connected with every mentor.
Marissa Zelman, assistant director of Student Support Services (SSS) and co-founder and chair of the B-First Network Committee, wrote that this is the first “first-gen” networking dinner in the history of the University.
Zelman discussed B-First and the Center’s intentions behind organizing the event.
“With this event, we aim to bring attention to this invisible identity, all too often endured silently, while broadening the network of our first-gen students — helping them build social capital,” Zelman wrote in an email. “We also seek to thank our mentors for committing their time and offering their words of wisdom by providing them with a dinner, and offering them a space where they too are able to share their own struggles as first-gens, in a safe and welcoming space.”
B-First has around 199 first-generation faculty and alumni mentors and 231 first-generation mentees, according to Zelman. This is not representative of the 20 to 30 percent of first-generation students making up BU’s student body, according to the B-First webpage.
Antinea Sanchez — an undergraduate representative for the B-First Networking Committee, a first-generation student and a junior majoring in biological sciences — explained B-First’s role as not only a networking resource, but also a program that makes first-generation students “feel part of this huge school.”
“The first-gen student community contributes to [BU] by diversifying the school with students of different backgrounds and experiences,” Sanchez said. “Within the community, there are mentors that understand what other students may be going through and are willing to guide them on a path full of obstacles as a first-gen student. This community lets others know the challenges that they may face and how to tackle them ahead of time because some may not have background knowledge of college life.”
As the event came to a close, students remained in Old Union Hall to continue speaking with their newfound mentors. Mentors shared their advice, undergraduate stories and contact information with students.
Jonah Poueriet-Santana, a sophomore majoring in economics, was one such student. Poueriet-Santana expressed hope that B-First would host similar events in the future, so the mentor and mentee communities can continue to foster connections.
“This event was definitely helpful to meet people you wouldn’t normally speak to,” Poueriet-Santana said. “It was eye-opening, too. The peers that are here are all people who are just like you — they’re all first-generation students. It was great to be around people who have similar stories to you. I definitely would recommend this event, and think [B-First] should do more of these events.”