August 26, 2014, BY Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

Professor Rebecca Willoughby, English, describes her experience of being a first-generation college student to a group of new students, their families and professors who were themselves first-generation.
Professor Rebecca Willoughby, English, describes her experience of being a first-generation college student to a group of new students, their families and professors who were themselves first-generation.

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Last Friday at Bucknell University, about 20 first-year students and their families took a break from the flurry of Move-in Day unpacking to attend a new event on the New Student Orientation schedule — a reception to welcome first-generation college students. The University held the event to connect this group of incoming students with faculty and staff who were themselves first-generation college students, said Bridget Newell, associate provost for diversity.

Bucknell considers to be first-generation those students who, along with any siblings, are the first in their immediate family to graduate from a four-year college or university. About 10.4 percent of students in the Bucknell Class of 2018 have indicated that they are first-generation. | See more Bucknell first-generation stories

President John Bravman opened the event by sharing his own experiences of being the first in his family to attend college, getting on a plane for the first time and flying across the country, able to return home only once a year.

"I was where our students are today, 39 years ago," said Bravman. Emphasizing the importance of students' getting to know Bucknell's faculty and staff, he said, "I remember my own struggles and how important it was to have advisers to rely on."

Bravman also encouraged the students to take advantage of the broad array of choices available to them. "This is a rare time in your life when you have an opportunity in a structured environment to pursue interests you didn't know you had," he said. "You will stretch your mind and become a better, more interesting person."

The approximately two dozen faculty and staff in attendance took turns introducing themselves, sharing their own backgrounds and offering support in their respective areas. Administrators from career services, admissions, the library, the chaplains' office, housing and civic engagement invited students to come to their offices to talk. Faculty in engineering, management, mathematics, the humanities, the arts and the social sciences shared their backgrounds and offered words encouragement.

One of several first-generation faculty members to have immigrated to the U.S., Professor John Hunter, comparative humanities, told the students, "You might think being first-generation is a disadvantage, but I think it's an advantage. You don't have the same preconceived notions other students might have. Make it yours."

Among the faculty and staff were several Bucknell alumni. Professor Jim Baish '79, biomedical and mechanical engineering, shared that he grew up on a farm about 80 miles from Bucknell's campus. 

Karen Marosi, associate dean of engineering, told the group she was not only a first-generation college student, but also a first-generation American. Marosi is a mentor to Bucknell's 2018 Washington D.C. Posse Scholars, many of whom are coming to Bucknell from families with little or no college experience. "I am glad Bucknell is acknowledging that there can be differences for someone whose family isn't as accustomed to the process," she said.

Posse Scholar Shirah Moffatt-Darko '18, who plans to major in sociology and early childhood education, said she appreciated President Bravman's encouraging the students to explore unfamiliar fields. "That resonated with me and reassured me that I'm on the right path," she said. "I'm not familiar with the college environment, and my dad's not familiar with it. The community here helps you make the transition and gives you support for branching out on campus."

Arts Merit Scholar Amanda Miller '18, an intended music education major from Kutztown, Pa., said the event was a great opportunity to meet people during her first days on campus. "It's cool getting to see how many other people are first-generation," she said.

First-year student Stephen Haberle, who is from from Nazareth, Pa., said he chose Bucknell for the personal attention students get from faculty. "It's nice to know there are people here who have experienced a similar situation and give you extra guidance, even more than Bucknell already gives you," said Haberle. He is a future computer engineering major who is a member of Bucknell's Engineering Success Alliance, a program that provide targeted mentoring to a select group of engineering students.

Haberle's mother, Joni, said she found the reception to be meaningful for her as a concerned parent. "It was nice to learn about my son's future and what Bucknell can offer him," she said. "The more you can learn about what's available, the better."

"She's doing this with me because she didn't go through the process herself," said Haberle. "We're in this together."