Billy Huang | The Poly Post

First-Generation Student Panel shares perspectives on navigating college

By Marvin Villanueva and Billy Huang, March 14, 2023

Cal Poly Pomona’s Reading, Advising & Mentoring Program hosted a first-generation student panel to discuss strategies on how to better navigate campus life.   

Held March 7 in Building 98C, the panel allowed first-generation student speakers to share their experiences with new first-gen students as a way to make connections with people who were in their shoes a few years prior.  

“The goal is really to show them that this is where you might be in a few years,” said RAMP advisor, Denise Aranda-Cedillos. “This is what resources you can connect with; this is how you can kind of navigate the struggles of being a first-gen student.”  

Upper-division students spoke on numerous first-gen student issues such as time management, homesickness and finding a safe spot on campus where they felt like they belonged in CPP for the first time. 

Bella Acuna, a third-year transfer student from Alaska, recalled worrying about moving thousands of miles away from home while trying to transition into a much larger city. 

“When I first moved here I was really worried about how I would fit in to the city in general, meeting three new roommates when I have no idea who they were,” said Acuna. “I always thought that in order to set up my future the right way I need my college degree, because having a degree just sets you up so much more ahead than those who don’t. As a first-gen, I wanted to have the opportunities that my parents didn’t have, so I just wanted to take advantage of this.”  

Instead of following her parents, Acuna had to decide on whether staying home was really the best option. Acuna said during the panel that attending CPP made the process of fitting in a lot easier as CPP has a large population of Latin American students.  

On the other hand, Daniella De La Torre, a psychology student, had trouble managing the newfound freedom that being a college student allows, and combatted the issue by seeking out academic clubs in order to feel more productive during the day. 

Billy Huang | The Poly Post

Torre as well as Hector Garcia, a construction engineering and management student, both agreed that clubs are the best way for students to find great resources such as RAMP that they can rely on and feel a sense of belonging at CPP.  

“I’ve mentored some of the residents, it just feels really nice being able to help out others just like I was helped,” said Torre. “Just makes you feel a lot more connected knowing that someone is going through something similar to you.” 

 Garcia also describes feeling a sense of belonging when other people shared similar struggles, and how it’s important for students to find resources and programs that aim to help them at CPP.  

“I took advantage of the little club fairs when I was a first-year transfer student,” said Garcia. “One of the first programs I was in was PolyTransfer, and it helped me transition from community college to Cal Poly Pomona.” 

Aerospace engineering student Marcelino Atilano said as a first-year RAMP mentee, he attended the panel to hear practical advice on how to manage his college experience.  

“I want to learn more about these people that’s been here before me and their experience,” Atilano said. “(RAMP) is a nice place I can go the people are nice, and they are actually helping my skill sets to be better than what I’m doing so far.” 

According to RAMP’s mission statement on the CPP website, their goal is to increase the retention and graduation rates of low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities at CPP.  

As a TRIO Student Support Service, RAMP assists students within these demographics with various services such as peer mentoring, advising and graduate entrance exam preparations. By providing academic and personal support to participants, students are able to persist at CPP and graduate in a timely manner.  

 “Our program is there to help students specifically in their first years at Cal Poly” said RAMP peer mentor Casie Lundquist Emery. “We basically are here for you and whatever you need from us. And if we can’t provide it, we’ll direct you to resources that will help you.”  

Additional information about RAMP can be found on their webpage on CPP’s website. 

Feature image by Billy Huang

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