By Grace Johnson, May 4, 2021
Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Business Administration hosted a virtual event on April 23 to highlight first-generation CBA students and their academic success while emphasizing the grave importance of sociability and maintaining mental health.
The First-Gen Leadership Panel featured four panelists sharing their experiences as first-generation college students while offering advice on navigating through the plethora of difficulties college brings — including making friends and taking on a rigorous amount of coursework.
“We created this event because the pandemic has made it even more difficult for students to learn via a virtual environment,” said panelist Jesus Zuniga, a third-year finance student. “As a speaker on the panel, I thought it was great to be able to help out freshmen and first-generation students who may be feeling a little bit lost or out of place because that is how I felt when I first began college as a first-generation student.”
Sharing their experiences, trials and successes in their college careers, the panelists included CBA Retention and Graduation Specialist Jacquelyn Trejo; Management and Human Resources Department Lecturer Cory Scott; Reading, Advising and Mentoring Program Director Laura Ayon; and Zuniga.
Advocating for mental health, the panelists advised students to stay connected with fellow peers by engaging in CBA’s various clubs and campus organizations. Furthermore, the panelists explained that engaging with clubs and organizations can assist students in feeling a sense of belonging, build friendships and find study groups.
“My experience as a first-generation student at CPP has helped me tremendously as a panelist,” said Zuniga. “Being able to share my struggles and the things that helped me become successful academically was important because it helps students to understand that they’re not facing things alone and that someone resonates with how they’re feeling. I wanted to share my story so that they could feel more welcomed to the campus community.”
Approximately 40 CBA students attended the exclusive event, and a majority of the students were either first-generation or first-year college students. Over 500 freshmen are CBA students this academic year and were encouraged to attend the event.
“The College of Business Administration is a very diverse body of students,” said CBA Associate Dean of Academic and Student Success Innovations Larisa Preiser. “Close to 60% of our students are first-generation, so a panel like this is very important in regard to helping students feel a sense of belonging on campus.”
According to CBA Dean’s Faculty Fellow of Student Success Innovations Jeanne Almaraz, student success is at its best when students come together to study and communicate, but the pandemic made it difficult for incoming and first-generation students to create these relationships.
Although many incoming students have never been on campus or been able to interact in-person with their fellow students, the panel encouraged students to reach out to their classmates and make an effort to develop relationships so that their return to in-person learning can be not only more successful academically but more socially enjoyable as well.
“What’s really powerful about this peer-to-peer support that we’re encouraging is that when students see themselves in other students, a very valuable connection happens,” said Preiser. “Students who walk in the same shoes as you are able to share their stories and that really helps to build confidence and a sense of belonging in others. This peer mentorship program has become a much broader part of the action we’re taking in regard to CBA student excellence and success.”
Some panelists shared their personal experiences branching out on campus and how it helped their experience to become more positive while others shared how their lack of sociability led them to feel as though they missed out on fully experiencing college and honing the sense of belonging.
“Having someone to talk to is important,” said event attendee Mikee Eusebio, a second-year management and human resource student. “Work is important, and school is important, but so is taking a break. Students are encouraged to get up, walk around and allow themselves to get some fresh air because we’re constantly on our laptops now. It’s important to emphasize that student success, especially for first-gen students, isn’t always about working non-stop, but also giving yourself a chance to take a break and enjoy life.”
The CBA First-Gen Leadership Panel plans to host more events gearing focus on first-generation CBA students in the future. For more information on upcoming events, visit CBA Peer Mentors on Instagram.
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