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Faithful & Forward: Five Reflections from First-gen

Lester Larios, M.M., Biola University / The Center / November 10, 2021

“We’ve been faithful, and we’ve moved forward.” These are the words that came to mind as our team thought about our annual FirstGen Day celebration at Biola University. As we brainstormed a theme for our first ever, week-long celebration, we couldn’t help but reflect on how far we had come as a program. From starting in 2016 with nothing but a dream and an outline to becoming a First-gen Forward institution this past year, expanding our summer bridge program and services, and shifting our university culture to embrace our #FirstGenFam. It has been five years of hard work, celebration, and innovation. While there’s still new paths to walk and so much more to learn, here are five reflections from our time as a first-gen program.

Run Your Race

As a program, we are not immune to comparing ourselves on social media. It can be easy at times to scroll through other institutions’ social media feeds and go, “Oh! Such a good idea, why didn’t we think of that?!?” As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve learned to identify what we are good at as a program and to build off of that. It's easy to compare ourselves to other institutions, but as we do that, it's even easier to lose the joy in the work that we do. Running our race means running our way but always moving forward.

Challenge for Change

Throughout our five years, the collaborations we’ve been able to build with other departments have fostered innovative changes to policies, services, and culture across the university. Much of this has been through intentional conversations, leveraging best practices, and challenging the perspectives of others. Though at times this can be overwhelming, challenging the norm with creativity and courage has allowed us to grow and expand beyond what we ever hoped for. As the old saying goes, “What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

Though at times this can be overwhelming, challenging the norm with creativity and courage has allowed us to grow and expand beyond what we ever hoped for.

Always Fail Forward

To say that we’ve faced challenges throughout these five years would be an understatement. However, through each hardship, sacrifice, and failure we have had as a program, we’ve learned to embody the same values we strive to pass on to our students. Courage, resilience, empathy, and celebration are all examples of what we embrace in the midst of failure. Each lesson we learn is a new opportunity to go further than we ever have. As we live out these values in our day to day, we take a step towards success moment by moment.

Family Means Everything

There are many iterations and meanings to the word family, but what we’ve found is that for our students, family means a little bit of everything. It means a community of redemption and restoration; a place to relearn what family means to us; a place to be yourself; a village to cheer you on and support you. It means a team working together towards equity and inclusion. As leaders we strive to make our programs the most innovative they can be, but as sojourners, we strive to make this community the best family it can be for students to thrive and flourish.

Cultivate Thanksgiving

We can often fixate our focus on all the progress that still needs to be done such that we often forget how far we’ve come. Taking time to be thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given is a great way to cultivate joy and hope for the future ahead. As a program, we are thankful for the reality of having our daily roles and responsibilities. We are thankful for the support of allies and the community, and most importantly, we are thankful for the students we get to journey beside, as they make it all worthwhile.

As we continue celebrating our first-gen students at Biola this week, we are thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had to come this far. Never did we imagine that we would be a part of a greater community that goes beyond our university and that we would be united in connecting with and empowering our students towards success. As professionals in this work, we celebrate our students, and we also celebrate ourselves: for all the late nights that we’ve put into the program; for all the details we’ve thought through; for all the time we’ve invested in our students; for getting this far; for doing what it took; for being faithful; and for always moving forward.

For more information on Biola University’s approach, please visit their website here.