Pace Magazine

Building Legacies with Pace's First Generation Program

Johnni Medina
January 18, 2024
Pace student D'Andre Butler stands in front of a windowed building on the Pleasantville Campus

Being a trailblazer isn’t easy. Nevertheless, every year, first generation students take up this mantle as they bravely begin their educational journey, making a new path for themselves. It’s a daunting challenge, but Pace’s First Generation Program is dedicated to supporting these students, making sure they don’t have to go it alone.

But, before we go on, we have to answer a really important question: what is a first generation student? A person can consider themselves a first generation student when neither of their parents (this includes step-parents and legal guardians) have completed a bachelor’s degree OR if they earned a degree outside of the US. According to Valentine Rojas Abreu ’24, “Some people don’t even realize they’re a first generation student.”

Pace student Valentina Rojas Abreu stands in front of a staircase

Valentina knows this better than most, as she has a deep connection to the first generation program at Pace, and the people it serves. As a first-gen student herself, she participated in the program as a mentee during her first year at Pace, before becoming a mentor herself. Now she’s the president of the program, offering new students the same support she found when she first started.

Many first generation students share similar feelings on the unique challenges they face navigating college. “My family members don’t always understand the stories I tell them about my college experience,” says Amber Brouwer '24. Danielle Shoulders ’24 has felt this too, saying, “I’m not able to ask about the college experience from my parents. I have overcome this by making my own support system.”

Having to figure things out on your own can help students reach for the stars.—Valentine Rojas Abreu

That’s where the First Generation Program can help, and both Amber and Danielle agree that building a community of other first-gen students helped ease some of the growing pains. According to Amber, “They understand the struggles you’re going through and remind you that you aren’t alone.”

The program also connects students with tools that help them in the transition into college. “Pace has a wide range of resources and events that college students can attend to learn more about the ins-and-outs of college,” says Danielle. D’Andre Butler ’25 says the program has done wonders to help him build connections. “Networking has been the best part of my experience,” he says. “Since my first year I have grown so much by creating opportunities for myself and making connections with pretty important people.”

I saw these four years as the time for me to try every club, job, and opportunity that I found interesting. —Amber Brouwer

Some first generation students believe that their unique challenges strengthen their resolve and even benefit them in the long run. “Yes, things were harder at first, because figuring out all of the right paperwork and financial aid on your own can be hard,” Amber admits. “But I also wanted to take every opportunity I had. I saw these four years as the time for me to try every club, job, and opportunity that I found interesting.”

This thirst for more is something Valentina sees in many of the students in the program, and she believes this spirit of independence ultimately encourages success. “Having to figure things out on your own can help students reach for the stars,” says Valentina. “They have to find opportunities and have higher aspirations because they know they’ve always had to.”

With the help of Pace’s First Generation Program, these students are not just navigating uncharted waters but transforming their challenges into assets as they begin to build their own legacies.

To learn more about Resources for First Generation Students, visit the First Generation Program site

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