UNLV celebrates 2nd annual 1st generation week

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Music students pose for a shot at the UNLV 1st Generation Kickoff. Photo by Chazitee Dela Cruz.

UNLV hosted the second ever first-generation week celebration that highlighted and honored all first-generation students, faculty, and staff on campus. 

The beginning of the week kicked off with a campus-wide celebration in the Student Union’s Courtyard. During the event, UNLV leadership delivered keynote speeches honoring the students and staff who have paved the way for many in their families and communities. A few of these leaders expressed their first-generation journey and experiences. 

“First-generation students by definition are trailblazers, they are doing something that the people came before them didn’t do often because they weren’t able to do it,” said Chris Heavy, UNLV’s provost and executive vice president. Heavy opened up the morning extending a thank you to all those involved in making the week possible. 

Keith Whitfield, UNLV president, followed the provost with remarks about the importance of the first-generation community on campus and advice they should follow. 

“First-generation students make up 30 percent of our students,” Whitfield said. “First-generation students need to be willing to ask questions and make sure that you feel like you belong. This is pivotal in their success and asking questions is an essential part of being a student.”  

After Whitfield’s remarks, Juanita Fain, vice president of student affairs and first-generation student, discussed her journey and gave advice that she wished she took advantage of.

“Please take advantage of all of the resources here today. There are so many resources and so many individuals who want to see you succeed and support your success”, Fain said. “One of the things the intersection has done is to prepare a first-generation booklet with faculty and staff who can serve as examples and mentors.”

During the kickoff, students had the opportunity to visit a variety of booths on campus that provided resources to first-generation students. Some that were present at the event included University Libraries, UNLV Housing, and the 1st Generation Club. 

“Referencing how everyone came together for this week, the 1st Generation club on campus really served as the student input and voice,” said Angelica Shenouda, president of UNLV’s 1st Generation club. “My favorite part about serving as the president of the 1st Generation club on campus is meeting all of the amazing people and being able to provide that sense of community that a lot of first-gen students lack when they first arrive on campus.”

The kickoff ushered in a series of programs and activities throughout the week hosted by university colleges, departments, and units celebrating our first-generation students, faculty, and staff. 

As a part of the kickoff, students also had the opportunity to network with other first-generation students and faculty. Games were offered at the event to win prizes. 

After the kickoff, a first-generation window painting event took place where students came together to participate in painting the Student Union windows that faced the Pida Plaza. 

The following day, a celebration breakfast took place in the Student Unions ballroom to honor and recognize the many first-generation students, faculty, and staff. Keynote speeches at the breakfast ranged from Fain, Whitfield, and Heavy. The event served warm breakfast and drinks that decorated the tables. A poster exhibit was displayed around the ballroom to be viewed by the attendees.

“There’s something very special about being the first,” said Harriet Barlow, the executive director of the intersection. “Being the first person in your family to go to college is indeed very special and we celebrate, we congratulate, and we acknowledge your accomplishments, persistence, and perseverance.” 

She continued her remarks by highlighting a directory of about 100 plus first-generation professionals and UNLV’s newest first-generation pilot program. 

The event also welcomed the 2020 first-generation essay contest with the top two finalists Kristine Espinoza and Jordon Smith. These essays were read by the authors aloud at the breakfast celebration through a video collaboration.

The essays expressed the challenges students faced being the first to attend college within their family unit, how some dealt with homelessness, overcoming substance abuse issues, and managing the financial burdens that threatened to derail their academic goals. 

“My biggest piece of advice for first-generation college students is to be okay with not knowing the answers; seek mentors who can guide and support you through your time at UNLV,” said Darlyn Magaña, a first-generation student who serves as the honors college’s secretary. “The most rewarding thing that I’ve experienced at UNLV has been mentoring other first-generation students, as it reminds me that I am paving the way for others who are also working towards breaking generational barriers.”

Those who participated in competing in the essay contest needed to submit their application a few days before the breakfast to be considered for the scholarship. 

After the breakfast celebration, a variety of panels and workshops were held throughout the week for first-generation students. One notable panel was hosted by the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine titled, “Med School 101: How it started vs how it is going.” 

The panel featured UNLV medical school students from the First-Generation Low-Income organizations who spoke about the struggles of being first-generation, as well as their journey of getting into medical school.

The rest of the week consisted of first-generation mixers and panels, academic graduate webinars for first-gen students, and a two-day first-generation career exploration program hosted by Student Life at the Circus Circus Las Vegas.

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