First-generation students find support, camaraderie in college setting

On-campus services help first-generation students succeed

| Author: CBANews | Media Contact: CBANews

First-generation students are the first in their families to go to college, but CMU’s resources mean they don’t have to navigate the journey alone.

Central Michigan University’s first-generation college students — students whose parents have not attended college — make up 20% of the university’s student population.

First-generation students bring unique perspectives and a figure-it-out determination that helps them not just make it through their degree, but thrive. Still, the challenges they face are generally unlike those of other student groups.

“When I first began my college journey, I had a multitude of questions,” said Heidi Garay-Estupinian, a senior from Troy and one of many first-generation students within CMU’s College of Business Administration. “Being the first in the family to go to college means you have to be the first to navigate college in all its essence — from financial aid and understanding college credits to picking an area of study.”

Recognizing the need for support services, the college has implemented numerous measures to serve all students, and especially those who are the first to chart the college course in their family. 

Welcome to the HUB

The Office of Student Engagement and Professional Development — more commonly known as “the HUB” around Grawn Hall — launched in fall 2022 and serves as a one-stop-shop for students to get the support they need from the time they step on campus to when they walk across the stage at graduation. 

“We see ourselves as a connector,” said Amy McGinnis, CBA’s director of student experience and a management faculty member. “There are a lot of really great things happening across CBA — student organizations, admissions and recruitment work, programs, opportunities to get engaged — we want to be the resource to help students know what is available to them.”

Whether students need a place to study, are looking for opportunities to get involved within CBA or just need advice, the HUB lives up to its name by being a go-to resource for students — and especially first-generation students — in need of a helping hand throughout their college careers. 

"The HUB and everything it offers has been a tremendous source of support for me,” Garay-Estupinian said. “In particular, Dr. McGinnis has helped guide me throughout my journey at college. She’s held my hand through numerous job interviews and has really brought out my inner potential.”

Learning to lead through the Queller Leadership Scholars Program

In its first cohort this academic year, the Queller Leadership Scholars Program, started through a gift by alums Dave and Penny Queller, empowers first-generation students through opportunities to engage in programming that supports professional development and fosters leadership. 

In addition to earning a financial scholarship, the students meet weekly and participate in leadership development programs, formal assessments and mentoring programs. They also gain exposure to business professionals through volunteer opportunities, networking events and speakers, and learn to navigate college with the support of those who have already walked a similar path. 

“The hardest thing for me to navigate as a first-generation student was being on my own,” said Haylei Drope, a senior from Chesaning who is in the Queller Scholars cohort. “The support services are so helpful because they have connected me with students and faculty that are going — or have gone — through the same situation.”

This August, the Queller’s hosted the cohort at their home in Petoskey for an overnight retreat. Activities included team-building, forming relationships and connecting with a group of business executives during a panel on the Queller’s back porch.

“Penny and I are so proud to work with CBA and the HUB to support a first-generation scholars program for students of promise,” Dave said. “We hope this program elevates student awareness of their potential within their area of study and leadership opportunities while creating a career framework that maximizes their professional development.”

For Garay-Estupinian, who is also a Queller scholar, involvement in the cohort has not just helped her refine her leadership skills — it’s brought her connection and support.

“Being part of the Queller cohort has made me feel extremely supported and seen as a first-generation student who navigates a million things,” she said. “It’s such a relief to be part of a group that understands exactly what you’re going through and roots for each other’s success.”

First-gen resources across campus

CMU’s commitment to providing resources for first-generation students earned the university membership to the First Scholars Network in June 2023. The network, powered by the Center for First-generation Student Success, will help CMU further its commitment to first-generation students through implementing numerous evidence-based measures across campus.

One such measure was the introduction of First Gen Central, a dedicated office that helps first-generation students successfully transition into and navigate their college journey.

“As a first-generation college student myself, I certainly have a heart for helping students like me navigate their college careers,” McGinnis said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, and we are here to help you get the knowledge and experiences you need to navigate college and meet your personal and professional goals.”

CMU and CBA also celebrated National First-Generation College Student Day on Nov. 8.

During the celebration, the HUB organized a table for students to write down their experience as a first-generation student. Words like “life-changing,” “determination” and “opportunity” were shared.

“A lot of conversations around what it means to be a first-generation student include having different kinds of support available at home as they navigate this journey,” McGinnis said. “We are committed to intentionally thinking about the ways we can engage first-generation students and help them succeed.”

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