How Central Bridge Paved the Way for Central Michigan University to Join the First Scholars Network
James Span, Jr. & Alejandra Rengifo, Central Michigan University / The Center / November 15, 2023
Alyssa Leal initially heard about being a first-generation student while in high school. She was informed about TRIO Upward Board but was never told what it meant to be a first-generation student. Only during her first year at Central Michigan University did she begin to understand. The experience was intimidating and overwhelming. Her roommates all had parents who had gone to college and had the support systems they needed. This was not the case for her. Alyssa felt she was alone.
In fact, she was part of a collective of other first-generation students who felt the same way. Alyssa didn’t want other first-generation students to have the same experience, so she created a student organization focused on providing support. Where to begin? How to do this? Who to talk to about it? The experience was frightening, but also enlivening to create an organization that benefited Alyssa as well as others.
Central Michigan University is a campus where people are approachable and supportive. Since Alyssa didn’t know how to create this organization, she started by emailing the president of the university, who put her in contact with the appropriate staff members. Consequently, Central Bridge was born. The rest is history, and legacy. Alyssa and her peers Walter Centeno, Jamie Sherwood, Dylan Reinink, Chris Frazer, and Skyler Peggie never imagined their passion to visit high schools to share information with students about going to college was going to become a thriving RSO.
Then the unexpected, just as Central Bridge was reaching new heights, the pandemic hit. The world stopped and Central Bridge stopped with it. The organization did what it could to stay afloat amid masks, social distancing, virtual modality, and a virus that wouldn’t let go. Since then, the founding members have graduated and left the organization in the hands of newcomers. Then the seeds Alyssa and her peers planted began to grow. The legacy left by the original architects goes beyond the scholarship they created. It is a work that has developed into a university-wide interest of supporting first-generation students. Since CMU returned to a certain normalcy on campus, Central Bridge has been busy building their membership and participating in events to create awareness.
One of the biggest achievements has been the creation of a university-wide Advisory Task Force by the division of Student Affairs to achieve First-Generation Forward designation. A small group of faculty and staff members started meeting in fall of 2022 with plans to apply for admission into the NASPA First Scholars Network. All worked tirelessly within their own schedules to attend workshops, support the activities of Central Bridge, create awareness, and to reach our ultimate goal. In June 2023 we received the news our institution was selected as a network member. Since then, more faculty, staff, and students have joined the task force; we’ve maintained our efforts to become a champion campus and support our first-generation students in meaningful and impactful ways.
For First Gen Central, the sky is the limit!