Mapping First-generation College Faculty, Staff, and Students onto the University Landscape

Jacqueline Naranjo, M.A., California State Polytechnic University, Pomona / The Center / December 01, 2021

What began as a departmental initiative on the Cal Poly Pomona campus to launch a visibility campaign of first-generation college faculty and staff has since grown and developed into a campus-wide effort, I AM FIRST, which now includes a mentorship program and year-round programs.

In 2019, the Office of Student Success relaunched I AM FIRST with two overarching goals:

  • celebrate and create visibility among our first-generation students, faculty, and staff at Cal Poly Pomona; and

  • create access and equity for first-generation college students through faculty and staff mentorships.

Since then, I AM FIRST has strived not only to help identify first-generation college faculty, staff, and students but also to build greater understanding of what it means to be a first-generation college student and the first-generation experience. One of the first tasks was to establish a clear definition of who is considered a first-generation college student at Cal Poly Pomona. It may seem like a simple action, but educating our campus community helped bring forth many students who did not believe they “counted” as first-generation and were navigating the university and facing challenges on their own. For many students, this has helped make them feel like they are not alone in their unique challenges and helped foster a sense of community on campus.

In response to building our students’ social capital and supporting them in their academic journey, we established a mentorship program focused on matching first-generation faculty and staff with first-generation students. The mentorship program operates completely on a volunteer basis. To our amazement, we had an overwhelming response to the call for mentors and folks that wanted to share their story of being a first-generation college student.

No matter the challenges we faced these past two years, one thing remains the same at Cal Poly Pomona: our steadfast commitment to student success, equity, and inclusion.

In addition to our mentorship program, we established the inaugural Cal Poly Pomona First-Generation College Student Week in 2019 with a kick-off celebration on National First-Gen Day on November 8th. This week-long series of events opened the opportunity to harness cross-campus resources to better support the first-generation college student community.

Fast forward to 2021, despite the drawbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cal Poly Pomona offered a hybrid version of First-Generation College Student Week focusing on our students’ sense of belonging. We kicked off the week with an outdoor celebration featuring campus resources, bios and pictures of our first-generation community, a photo booth, and giveaways. The next day, we joined former First Lady Michelle Obama in a livestream conversation about her book, Becoming, where our student, Sara Carrillo engaged in the conversation in person with Mrs. Obama. To round out the week, we offered professional headshots and workshops from our campus partners with topics ranging from unspoken rules, financial literacy, first-gen identity, and career development.

Our partners this year included: Academic Support & Learning Services; Bronco Navigators; Educational Opportunity Program (EOP); the Reading, Advising, and Mentoring Program (TRIO SSS); Maximizing Engineering Potential (MEP); Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers; Career Center; Counseling Services; Learning Resource Center; PolyTransfer; Basic Needs; and the Office of Undergraduate Research. First-Generation College Student Week at Cal Poly Pomona would not be possible without the unified efforts among our student affairs and academic affairs partners.

No matter the challenges we faced these past two years, one thing remains the same at Cal Poly Pomona: our steadfast commitment to student success, equity, and inclusion, and creating an environment where students can feel that they belong.

For more information on California State Polytechnic University, Pomona’s approach, please visit their website here.