New organization empowers first-generation students

First Gen’ Canes provides students, who are the first in their immediate family to attend college, opportunities to connect with their peers and resources that guide their academic journey and support their career goals.

When Cassandra Michel began her college experience, as a first-generation student, she sought support and resources at the University of Miami to guide her on her journey.

Through Empower Me First, a student counseling and mentoring program for first-generation undergraduates offered by the Office of Academic Enhancement, Michel, a senior psychology student, connected with Micah Johnson , associate director for Empower Me First. Recognizing that first-generation college students needed peer-to-peer support, the couple decided to start a new student organization, First Gen ‘Canes.

“I’m really passionate about the community and making people feel like they have a space on campus,” said Michel, who serves as president of the organization. “One of the things we prioritized when creating First Gen ‘Canes was to build community.”

The goal of the First Gen ‘Canes is to connect first generation students with their peers through various workshops and networking opportunities. Meetings for club members include skills building to support their mental health, career goals, and academic progress.

The students attend a recent First Gen ‘Canes reunion.

The club also offers informational meetings where they invite guest speakers from campus partners, like the Toppel Career Center and the Counseling Center, to offer advice on how best to navigate the experience of being a college student. first generation.

“We want students to know they have support at school, but we also want to give them that support by teaching them the resources that will help them be successful in their future,” said sophomore Christian Blakely. in microbiology and immunology, and chair of First Gen Week, which will take place in November.

For Jason Ramkissoon, a sophomore in international relations, the support of his peers through organizations like First Gen ‘Canes offers him the unique opportunity to be mentored by juniors and seniors. And in turn, the group gives him the chance to mentor new students.

“When I started college, I didn’t have a lot of people in my life who were in the position I’m in now that I could contact for advice or knowledge that they had,” said said Ramkissoon. “Being able to create a community with students who are in your classes, who you see all the time, helps us as a first generation community. We hope we foster a community where students can both teach and learn from others.

Michel hopes that creating space to empower and connect first-generation students will help cultivate strong leadership and future success among his peers. She also hopes the organization helps students feel proud to be first-generation students.

“Being a first generation student is something to be proud of,” she said. “You are the first person in your family to go to university. This is a huge achievement, and students should feel able to identify with it. »

In 2019, the University of Miami was recognized by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators as an Advanced First-Generation Institution by the Center for First-Generation Student Success. This distinction highlights the University’s dedication to the success of first-generation students.

“I want to encourage students to do things that inspire them, but also inspire each other,” said Johnson, who advises First Gen ‘Canes. “Creating a space for them to find common ground, to feel seen by their peers, is a barrier breaker and a bridge builder for them.”

Visit Engage for more information on the first generation rods.

Aubrey L. Morgan