By Aaliyah M. Murillo, Nov. 16, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona celebrated national First-Generation College Student Week through a series of events organized by I AM FIRST, the campus’ initiative for first-generation student support, kicking off with a resource fair at University Park on Nov. 8.

Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to join in a virtual event with former first lady Michelle Obama, receive professionally photographed headshots and meet other students through a virtual mixer — events all organized to support first-generation college students who make up 58% of the campus population.

“I think it is important to celebrate and shine the light on it so that students, when they are going through this, they know they are not alone,” said Tracy McDonald (’92, applied math; ’99 master’s in applied math) director of the Learning Resource and previous first-gen student at CPP. “That whole fighting the imposter syndrome, you can do it; you can absolutely do it.”

Students Tia Brown (left) and Phoenix Jones (right) pose during the resource fair at University Park. (Aaliyah M. Murillo)

The LRC has created a new program, the Academic Skills program, which teaches students academic skills like time management, note-taking and exam preparation.

“A lot of people have a negative connotation when it comes to tutoring, but it is nothing but empowering. Our goal is to lay the foundation so students feel the empowerment themselves and they can go and be successful in any class,” said McDonald.

The LRC boasts close to 100 peer mentors and tutors to provide subject tutoring and writing tutoring for courses and resumes.

“We are not here for the money for sure; we are here for the students, and just being a part of their successful journey is humbling. I’m grateful,” added McDonald, who first attended CPP when she was 17 years old and has remained at the university ever since.

The Reading, Advising and Mentoring Program, or RAMP, is another resource available for students and highlighted during the week’s events.

“We are here to support students within our means. We have a variety of resources and services available. It is very individualized,” said Laura Ayon, director of RAMP.

RAMP ensures students read at their grade level, display critical thinking and improve their writing skills as they move forward in their academic careers. RAMP also produces a book club and helps with researching graduate school programs.

At the resource fair, the Center for Community Engagement set up a booth for volunteers to decorate totes bags to serve as welcome kits for students who have faced insufficient housing. Each bag was filled with bathroom wipes, trash bags, sponges and dish soap.

“I’m an international student and with my family so far away and also a first-gen, I had a hard time asking questions and figuring out who to ask for advice here,” said Thu Tran, a hospitality student and student worker at the Asian & Pacific Islander Student Center.

Tran has found a home at CPP through the APISC which provided Tran with assistance in adjusting to life in America and finding a community through the Barkada club.

“I feel honored that I have a place here in Cal Poly. I feel here I belong, you know? There is also a big community of first-gen students here at Cal Poly, so I feel I have a place here,” said Tran.

Jane Rumpak, a tutor at RAMP and animal science student, believes that the resources highlighted at the fair were emblematic of the support extended to students at the university.

“I’m first-gen myself,” said Rumpak. “Being in this program and seeing all the resources offered and being at this festival and everyone supporting you, just the support you feel at Cal Poly Pomona is the best thing.”

Raquel Capacete, care services coordinator and wellbeing coach at CAPS, described the process of how CAPS would help students who come in asking for services.

“I would have them come in for a triage visit, we would assess what is going on, and dig a little deeper and ask exactly what they meant,” said Capacete. She mentioned how she would figure out if the student needed help physically or emotionally.

The CAPS program goes beyond academic support by providing students with support from licensed mental health professionals that help students cope with any psychological and personal issues.

“I think first-gen is definitely a very special population, perhaps needing a little bit more support, a little bit more guidance, and we hope to be able to provide that,” said Capacete.

I AM FIRST provides a mentorship program which students to be paired with a faculty or staff member who resonates with being a first-generation student and throughout the program will gain additional guidance to help them be successful at CPP. To apply for I AM FIRST’s Mentorship Program as a mentor and mentee, campus community members can visit the program’s website.

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