First Generation Grad Students’ Lunch

On November 5, 2012 by Grad Forum

“Make friends outside of your lab, outside of your class, outside of your study group,” Erin Shoemaker advised new students at Thursday’s First Generation Graduate Student Lunch. As a graduate student you need to balance your academics with interactions that aren’t focused on school, she suggested.

Shoemaker is a second year graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology program and the first in her family to attend college. Graduate students from the engineering, liberal studies and mathematics programs were also present. The students gathered to share their experiences as the first in their families to seek higher education, and find solidarity with students from similar backgrounds.

Kerry Landers, Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs, welcomed the students and facilitated discussion. Students brought up the particular challenges they face as first generation students, whether it’s a lack of familial support or understanding, or an inability to turn to their families for guidance concerning the academic questions they may have.

Prior to the lunch, Landers encouraged students to read an article entitled, “Those Invisible Barriers are Real: The Progression of First-Generation Students Through Doctoral Education.” The article outlined the research of Susan K. Gardner and Karri A. Holley, who interviewed 20 first generation doctoral students about their academic and family experiences. The authors found that first generation students must overcome significant obstacles, such as learning how to navigate financial aid and how to develop study skills without necessarily relying on their families for help.

Many of the themes of the article were reiterated during the lunch, including a certain drive and resiliency amongst first generation students. First generation graduate students, in particular, have already overcome enormous obstacles by completing their undergraduate educations. Pursuing advanced degrees demonstrates their further unwavering commitment to education.

Sunny Hernández, a first year MALS student, was a McNair Scholar as an undergraduate. The McNair Scholars Program prepares first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students who have demonstrated academic achievement for doctoral studies. Hernández mentioned that her family was supportive of her, but she felt pressure to succeed. “I’m the first person to leave home,” she said, “and the first woman.”

The perspectives that first generation students bring to academia have become increasingly recognized and valued. According to Landers, applications for incoming students at Dartmouth now identify first generation students.

The students who met on Thursday hope to see more first generation students in attendance when they meet next quarter. Landers hopes to incorporate more programming, such as career and academic preparedness workshops, for first-generation students next term.

by Jackson Shultz





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