Published on Nov. 12, 2021
National First-Generation College Celebration is November 8th. This day honors first-generation college students and celebrates their accomplishments. At Mizzou, there is a thriving cohort of first-generation students.
Eli Rojas, junior philosophy and interdisciplinary studies major, is one of those students.
Rojas came to Mizzou in 2019 following a gap year after high school. During the gap year, he found himself watching hours of college lectures online and listening to numerous audiobooks.
“I was obsessed with learning anything,” Rojas says. “To start learning, there shouldn’t be a wall in front of you.”
Without several teachers in his life, Rojas says he wouldn’t have gotten here.
“My calculus teacher senior year looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘explore my curiosity,’” Rojas says.
Bailey Martin, a junior student studying history and constitutional democracy, credits numerous faculty at Mizzou for aiding her transition into college life.
“Dr. Thomas Kane from the Kinder Institute has been an enormous supporter of so much of what I do, and has really given me so much guidance,” Martin says. “Dr. Erin Holmes has really taken me under her wing…. telling me that I have something to offer.”
Emily Boyer, a sophomore Spanish and public health student, also speaks about faculty who were invaluable to her in her pursuit of a college education.
“One of my teachers [junior and senior year] spent a lot of time teaching us how to apply, like College 101,” Boyer says.
Rojas, Boyer, and Martin all had one thing in common, though — despite differences in upbringing, hometown, and schooling, the most intimidating part of going to college was the application process. Family members don’t often understand how difficult the process can be for their children.
“I only applied to Mizzou and one other school because I was so overwhelmed by the process,” Martin says. “My family members don’t necessarily understand that I have to do my coursework, or that I really do spend hours reading in preparation for courses.”
Boyer is in agreement — her foremost obstacle was filling out the FAFSA, and learning what to ask for in the financial aid and loan process.
“I had to learn to ask for help,” Boyer says. “There are so many resources on campus, but so many people don’t know there are any. You just have to reach out to people.”
“First-generation college students don’t realize how honest they can be,” Rojas says. “I called and said, ‘Hey, I’m Eli. I’m first-generation, and I don’t know what I need to have done, and I’m scared.”
Several organizations on campus provide services for students. TRIO Student Support Services aid underrepresented students, including first-generation students, gain access to opportunities and campus resources. The MU First Generation Student Association provides services to first-generation students, including mentorship programs, tutoring, and guidance on social, financial, and academic matters.
While entering college as a first-generation college student can be difficult, according to Rojas, that experience is also unique and invaluable.
“My biggest challenge was that I thought I didn’t deserve it, didn’t belong, didn’t compete,” Rojas says. “What [first-generation college students] bring to the table is so much more than what the voices in [their] heads are telling [them.] First-generation college students have a profound space in our society.”