By Eileen C. Herbert, Chief Communications Officer, Canisius University

Photo of Mariama McCoy ’21 courtesy of Canisius University


Mariama McCoy ’21 has come full circle. She began her undergraduate experience at Canisius as a first-generation student, and now as a graduate student was proud to plan the 2021 First-Generation College Celebration on campus.

Currently pursuing her master’s degree in Higher Education & Student Affairs Administration (HESAA), McCoy said Canisius provided her with the assistance to succeed in her undergraduate studies and the confidence to pursue her graduate degree.

“Canisius created an environment where I was comfortable to grow as a person,” she said. “The college provides a support system that empowers first-generation students to be successful through respect, sensitivity and compassion.” McCoy said her list of supporters was long, including her professors, academic advisor, dean of her program and fellow students. “One of the best connections I made along my educational journey was with my mentor, Jenyia Wilson MS ’20, who worked as a graduate assistant in Tutoring Services.”

An Urban Leadership Learning Community (ULLC) scholar during her undergraduate years, McCoy also received encouragement and guidance from fellow students in the program. The ULLC enables the best and brightest students from Greater Buffalo who have historically been denied positions of influence or power to enroll in a unique educational opportunity at Canisius that helps create the next generation of leaders in Buffalo and Western New York.

Now a graduate assistant in the ALANA Student Center, McCoy took a leadership role in planning the college’s first-generation events.

“We celebrated pride among first-generation students with a variety of social and educational events, including speakers, career night, trivia night and a library-curated selection of books by first-generation students such as Barack Obama,” McCoy explained. The weeklong observance culminated in Pints with Professors with Bennie Williams, assistant dean of students and director of the Multicultural Student Center. The event is an opportunity for students to connect with first-generation faculty and administrators.

Williams also oversees the ALANA Student Center, which provides African American, Latinx American, Asian American and Native American students with various services that help them prosper at Canisius and after they graduate. ALANA supports the campus community goals of fostering, respecting and exploring cultural differences.

“At Canisius, students join a diverse community with many fellow first-generation students, faculty and staff,” Williams said. “This population continues to grow as more than 25 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are first-generation students.”

Mark R. Harrington MS ’10, Ed.D., assistant vice president for student development and academic success, partners with Williams to lead the task force for first-generation programming. This working committee focuses on welcoming students who identify as first-generation into the Canisius community through programs and services that assist them in navigating the college environment.

“Being a first-generation student is a key part of one’s identity on a college campus,” Harrington said. “We make certain that our first-generation students are celebrated and encouraged throughout their collegiate experience, and provide a supportive learning community as they pursue their educational goals.”

First Generation students also benefit from the college’s First-Year Experience (FYE) Program. The semester-long course takes a holistic approach to acclimating first-year students to the campus environment. The experience provides an onboarding that promotes academic success, builds a sense of belonging, and fosters student health and wellness. Each student has a designated peer mentor, an upperclassman available to give advice and guidance.

“This experience is especially important for our first-generation students because it lays the foundation for a successful undergraduate experience,” Harrington said. “Students develop connections with their professors, earn higher grades, are retained at higher rates, are more likely to become involved in the life of the campus and feel a sense of belonging in our community.”

Students are also paired with a four-person success team, which consists of an academic advisor, financial aid advisor, success coach and career coach. “The combination of our first-generation and first-year programming is a recipe for success,” Harrington added.

New at Canisius is the formation of a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha (or Tri-Alpha), a national honor society that promotes academic excellence and provides opportunities for growth, leadership development and community service for first-generation college students.

“Our chapter, Delta Gamma, will induct its first members (undergraduate and graduate students) this spring,” said Williams, who serves with Harrington as the chapter’s advisors. “At the induction ceremony, members will receive graduation cords to wear at commencement.”

McCoy is excited about the chapter and looks forward to her own induction. “It is so important to celebrate first-generation students and give them the credit they deserve,” she said.

After graduation, McCoy hopes to work on behalf of first-generation students: “I owe my success to the support I received, and in turn, I want to empower this growing population to be successful.”

By Meredith Fidrocki, Writer, College of the Holy Cross

First-generation college student Victoria De Leon ’22 (photo courtesy of College of the Holy Cross)


Victoria De Leon says that college was “uncharted waters” for her and her family. At the College of the Holy Cross, the senior from Denver sought out programs to connect her to other first-generation students. “The weight of being a first-generation college student was too heavy for me to carry on my own,” says De Leon, a political science and Spanish double major with a concentration in Latin American, Latinx and Caribbean Studies.

For a sizable group of Holy Cross students—16 percent of the student population—part of the higher education journey is being a first-generation college student, meaning that neither of the student’s parents graduated from a four-year college or university.

“Holy Cross’s goal is to make their college journey—in, through and out—a seamless experience,” says Michelle Rosa Martins, director of the Office of Multicultural Education and herself a first-gen college graduate.

With its social justice-oriented, holistic approach and small size, Holy Cross has a long history of first-generation student success, Rosa Martins says. First-gen students at the College are graduating at a rate equal to or higher than their Holy Cross peers. In recognition of its commitment to first-gen students, Holy Cross was recently designated a First-gen Forward institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation.

In 2018, Holy Cross joined the American Talent Initiative, a partnership among the nation’s top colleges and universities aiming to significantly grow the total number of lower-income and first-gen students enrolled at their institutions.

“It’s been an exceptionally difficult year for students from lower-income backgrounds across the country, leading many to pause or delay their education,” says Cornell B. LeSane II, vice provost for enrollment management at Holy Cross. “Despite the challenges of the last year, we were able to overcome national trends and maintain our commitments to enrolling and retaining lower-income students.”

As part of Holy Cross’ efforts to achieve the American Talent Initiative’s collective goal, LeSane says he’s particularly excited about plans to increase the number of partnerships that the College has with community-based organizations.

Research shows that colleges’ “hidden curriculum”—the landscape of new policies, jargon and cultural practices to navigate—can create barriers to success and leave first-gen students feeling like outsiders. Holy Cross strives to break down these barriers, offering social, academic and financial support while valuing the multi-dimensional identities of each first-gen student, as a whole person.

Support That Starts Early and Continues Beyond Graduation
Through targeted programming for prospective, accepted and first-year students, Holy Cross aims to ensure first-gen students begin their college careers with the resources they need to hit the ground running. Holy Cross’s retention rate for first-year, first-gen students is consistently over 95 percent, exceeding the 82 percent national average for all students at four-year private nonprofit institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“[People] often look at first-gen college students from a deficit model—all of their challenges and hurdles,” says Amie Archambault, assistant director of Holy Cross’ Office of Multicultural Education and LGBTQIA+ Specialist, and a first-gen college graduate. “We often use the term ‘trailblazer,’ as first-gen students are blazing new pathways for their families in higher education, and it highlights the skills, strength and resilience that first-gen students possess.”

When first-gen students enter Holy Cross, Rosa Martins gives them this reminder: “You have so many leadership skills that have come into place to get you where you are. It’s not a matter of whether you will succeed—it’s how and when.”

Through the Odyssey Program, incoming students who are first-gen, Pell Grant-eligible or students of color take part in summer peer mentoring: a one-week summer retreat and yearlong peer mentoring. As part of the annual #FirstGenCollegeGrad visibility campaign at the start of the academic year, first-gen faculty and staff wear pins and post decals on office doors so that students can identify and build relationships with community members who understand their shared lived experience.

Streamlined communication plays a crucial role in student success. “Research shows the best way to support first-gen students is to get all of the information in one space,” Archambault says.

Holy Cross’s new first-gen student website serves as a digital hub, with everything from a detailed first-year guide to research-based information for faculty and staff on how best to support first-gen students. The site also points students to financial resources like the recently launched Student Emergency Aid Committee, a one-step process for students experiencing emergency financial needs, such as food insecurity or unexpected transportation costs.

On top of comprehensive career exploration and planning through the Center for Career Development, the College’s First-Gen Alumni Network is an important added resource for current first-gen students, as well as alumni looking to connect with first-gen alumni for career insights, mentorship and community.

Through HCF1RST, Students Lead and Empower
One of the most powerful support systems at the College comes from the students themselves, via HCF1RST Scholars. “It’s student-led and helps amplify first-gen stories and connect [students] with resources,” says Archambault, who serves as advisor to the organization, which is open to first-gen and/or low-income students.

The HCF1RST platform also includes the HCF1RST Mentor Network, promoting visibility and connecting students with first-gen Holy Cross faculty, staff and allies who are particularly interested in serving as first-gen mentors.

Now a senior serving as co-chair of HCF1RST Scholars, Victoria De Leon joined HCF1RST Scholars as a first-year student and says the organization has been there for every step of her Holy Cross journey: “It provided resources and, most importantly, a community that lifted me up.”

This year, De Leon says that she and her fellow peer leaders have ambitious goals for expanding HCF1RST’s digital presence, as well as hosting many events, including financial literacy and FAFSA workshops, first-gen panels, a first-gen retreat, a mentorship program with local first-gen middle school students and more.

“HCF1RST is the organization that has empowered me to grow into the leader that I am today,” she says. “I hold HCF1RST close to my heart because being a part of a community that celebrates and uplifts our shared experiences has granted me the confidence and reassurance that I needed, as I pave a new legacy for my family.”

Contributed by the Georgetown University Office of Strategic Communications

Soon after Andy Marquez was accepted to Georgetown University in 2016, he received a call from the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), a program that supports low-income and first-generation college students during their four years.

First-generation college student Andy Marquez (all photos courtesy Georgetown University)


“They asked if I had any questions or needed resources,” Marquez said. “Right away, they made me feel that I was seen, that I was wanted, that I deserved a spot there and I had earned a spot there.”

Marquez grew up in a low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles; his parents had emigrated from El Salvador and spoke little English. Marquez was determined to be the first in his family to go to college and “build up from the bottom.” But he was apprehensive about a college price tag and choosing a university so far from his family.

One of the first places he found support was in Georgetown’s financial aid office, which offered him a need-based scholarship and assistance in making his college decision, wherever he decided to go.

“That’s when things started to click for me,” he said. “If I’m going to get through college, I’m going to need a village to help me through. My Jesuit connections and Georgetown put the right people in place for me. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The Georgetown Scholars Program and the university’s financial aid office are just a few of the support systems for first-generation undergraduate and graduate students at Georgetown. For example, the university’s Community Scholars Program, founded more than 50 years ago, has been one of the longest-serving academic programs to provide holistic support for multicultural first-generation college students in the U.S.

Guided by its Jesuit mission and value of cura personalis, or care of the person, Georgetown is committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students—and is one of only 35 liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S. to do so. The university also offers programs for students to address their individual needs, circumstances and gifts.

Georgetown’s programming has not only been recognized—Georgetown received a First Forward designation from the Center for First-Generation Student Success in 2019 for its commitment in this space—it’s also helped empower student success. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, the average graduation rate for first-generation college students is 26 percent in the U.S. For first-generation undergraduate students enrolled in the Georgetown Scholars Program or Community Scholars Program, it’s 95 percent and 92 percent on average, respectively.

Undergraduate Services for First-Generation College Students

Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program (CSP), founded more than 50 years ago in response to the 1968 uprisings in Washington, D.C., and to calls for equal opportunity, is one of the longest-running university programs for multicultural, first-generation and underrepresented students. The four-year program offers support and culturally relevant programming for scholars both inside and outside the classroom.

Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program is one of the longest-serving academic programs to provide holistic support for multicultural first-generation college students in the U.S.


During the summer before their first year, Community Scholars take two credit-bearing classes on campus to aid in their transition to college, interacting with professors, advisors and campus partners. Throughout their four years, Scholars receive ongoing academic advising, counseling services, financial aid, study groups and workshops to help build study skill strategies, relationships with faculty and staff, and personal development.

Yi Rong, a Community Scholar in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, said he was originally worried he wouldn’t be prepared for Georgetown’s academics, but felt swayed during CSP’s summer program.

“I wasn’t sure if I could handle the academic rigor of Georgetown,” he said. “But the Community Scholars Program gave me the opportunity to have firsthand exposure to what classes are like at Georgetown and what resources and tools are available for us through the Community Scholars family.”

“I speak from my own experience as a Scholar who joined a community of peers who had exceptional talents, resilient spirit and a capacity to recover and adapt in the face of adversity,” said Charlene Brown-McKenzie, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, which oversees CSP. “Community Scholars honors the unique histories and lived experiences of each of us in the program and helped us believe that we belonged here.”

Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access also offers pre-college programming and support for middle and high school students who will be the first in their families to attend college. Programs such as Kids2College (K2C), College Exposure/Dual Enrollment and the Institute for College Preparation provide academic, psychosocial and family support to empower students to graduate from high school and succeed in college.

‘Wraparound’ Support for Undergraduate First-Generation Students

Since its 2005 founding, the Georgetown Scholars Program has provided robust “wraparound” support for more than 1,500 low-income and first-generation college students, says Missy Foy, the program’s director.

The Georgetown Scholars Program’s Student Board helps support programming, events, advocacy and the needs of first-generation college students at Georgetown.


This support includes scholarships, micro-grants for emergent needs, resources such as free mental health counseling, a course created by a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor on navigating the “hidden curriculum” of college, peer and alumni mentors, tutoring, dinners and events, and a community.

For Marquez, a 2021 graduate and now a wealth management analyst at UBS, joining GSP helped him feel connected to the Georgetown community. “That’s how I was able to build confidence, feel comfortable raising my hand, challenging someone, talking to administrators—being a part of this community at Georgetown.”

This year, GSP awarded more than $1 million in micro-grants for the hidden costs of college: flights home for Thanksgiving or spring break, health care, winter jackets and other emergent needs.

Marquez pictured on his graduation day from Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.


Community Scholars and Georgetown Scholars interested in the sciences are also invited to join the Regents STEM Scholars Program (RSSP), which is designed to expand opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences.

Support for First-Generation Graduate Students

Megan Lipsky is the first generation in her family to go to law school. When she was preparing for Georgetown Law in 2018, she learned about its new program, RISE, which supports incoming J.D. students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in law school, including first-generation college students.

“I’m grateful to have been a part of the inaugural class of RISE Fellows to help me discern the benchmarks and measures of success in law school—whether writing for a journal, competing in moot court or taking classes that would help me later on in practice,” said Lipsky, now a clerk at the D.C. Superior Court. “RISE taught me the unwritten curriculum of law school and surrounded me with like-minded people who became my closest friends.”

Megan Lipsky, an alumna of Georgetown Law and of the RISE program.


RISE offers its incoming cohorts—this year numbering 110—a weeklong pre-orientation to help them build community with peers and staff, prepare for school, and begin professional development. The program extends its support during law school with weekly meetings with RISE teaching fellows, mentorships with RISE alumni, community building, career development and small grants through alumni donations.

Georgetown offers other graduate support programs for first-generation and underrepresented students, including the Georgetown School of Medicine’s ARCHES program, which helps promising undergraduate students strengthen their research and clinical skills, and the McCourt School of Public Policy’s National Urban Fellows (NUF) program, which helps enable more students from underrepresented groups pursue tuition-free graduate degrees. In 2020, McCourt graduated its first cohort of Fellows, who were overwhelmingly first-generation college students. The program is part of McCourt’s commitment to be the most inclusive public policy school in the world.

This commitment to equity and diversity is what drew Alfredo Dominguez (MPP-E’23), a first-generation college student, to pursue his master’s at McCourt. He was also attracted to the school’s D.C. location, quantitative focus and financial aid package. The first-year student said his parents, while initially skeptical of his decision to attend graduate school and leave his hometown, are proud that he’s pursuing policymaking.

Alfredo Dominguez (MPP-E’23), a first-generation college student, is pursuing his master’s at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy.


“It’s a real blessing to be able to sit around and think, especially for people from similar backgrounds who don’t have the time to reflect on broader issues that affect this country,” he said. “In that way, it is a privilege for my parents to see that for their son.”

By Tatiana Sanchez, Assistant Director for Storytelling, Santa Clara University

Shirley Naranjo, Santa Clara ‘23 (Photo courtesy of Santa Clara University)


As the coronavirus pandemic raged on in December 2020, Shirley Naranjo ‘23 faced a crisis of her own.

Five years after moving to the United States from Ecuador, Naranjo suddenly found herself without a place to live. Her landlord wanted a longer-term tenant and had just asked her to move out of her modest rental home in Stamford, Conn. She couldn’t move back in with her father, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. With no family to turn to and an hourly job at a local grocery store, Naranjo was short on options.

Naranjo had been accepted into Santa Clara University (SCU) as a transfer student and was set to start in January 2021. But the lack of family support and mounting financial stress threw her dream into question.

Naranjo connected with Erin Kimura-Walsh, director of the university’s LEAD Scholars program, which supports first-generation students at SCU. Within days, Kimura-Walsh arranged emergency housing on campus ahead of the start of the winter quarter. On Jan. 3, Naranjo moved into the Villas Residence Hall and received guidance from the University’s One Stop Office, which assists students with billing, financial aid and registration.

“It was everything to me because I felt safe, and my hard work was being recognized,” Naranjo recalled. “Without LEAD, I don’t think I would be here.”

One year later, Naranjo is thriving at Santa Clara, majoring in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering. A member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, she hopes to pursue a career that addresses California’s worsening environmental crises, including devastating wildfires and water shortages.

Welcoming and mentoring first-generation college students like Naranjo as they navigate the often difficult and unique journey through college is an integral part of Santa Clara’s mission. An estimated 14 percent of SCU’s first-years are the first in their families to go to college, according to Kimura-Walsh.

But being on a campus where many come from affluent families with college histories and are of traditional college age can be isolating and even discouraging for first-generation students, many of whom come from underrepresented, low-income communities.

Without the guidance of a parent or family member who went to college, first- generation students are often left to navigate institutions of higher education on their own—exploring financial aid options, registering for classes, knowing what questions to ask in class, networking for internship opportunities, or even what a professor means when they say to come for office hours.

All the hidden costs of college can also derail a student’s academic career. For example, affording a meal off campus to decompress or socialize with friends may be out of the question. “What we find with our LEAD students is, these structures and the bureaucracy of the policies and procedures that are set up within the university don’t always address and accommodate their needs,” Kimura-Walsh says.

Programs like SCU’s LEAD, which welcomed 130 first-year students this year, can help keep a university honest by acknowledging its shortcomings and actively working to fix them.

Some of LEAD’s primary elements include:

In some cases, the program offers a ready-made family to students entering a community that might make them feel isolated.

“All of those pieces provide our students with comprehensive support that’s really going to help them not only to be successful academically, but to thrive and get the most out of a Santa Clara education,” Kimura-Walsh said.

LEAD also gave its students more than $250,000 in emergency funding last year to cover urgent living and emergency expenses—such as laptops or Wi-Fi access—as well as scholarship needs, said Kimura-Walsh.

“That has been incredibly important this past year, especially as our students face so many financial challenges,” she said. “They lost their own jobs, parents lost jobs. They and their family members got sick.”

Thiadora Pina, a LEAD advisor and associate clinical professor at SCU’s School of Law, said she remembers clearly the overwhelming feeling of isolation she experienced throughout her time at the University of Massachusetts and Boston University School of Law.

A Boston native whose grandparents immigrated from the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa, Pina was the first to go to college in a family of 15 aunts and uncles. She worked full-time as a nurse’s aid to pay for her studies and textbooks. Her parents let her live at home and paid for meals, but they couldn’t guide her through college and law school.

“When I got into law school, it was a little bit of a culture shock,” Pina said. “Professors didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. I also didn’t have the confidence to talk because I was scared and thought, ‘What do I have to talk about?’ I was lost a lot of the time.”

Last year, Pina became the first faculty advisor for SCU’s First-Generation Law Student Association, a student-based organization founded in 2020 that creates a space for students who are the first in their families to attend law school.

“It’s a mission for me to make sure students don’t go through what I went through,” Pina said. “There’s just no need for it. We have the information. My goal is to disseminate that information loudly and broadly.”

“When you’re first gen, it is not a level playing field. Santa Clara does a wonderful job of recognizing that and saying, ‘Let’s do our best to make it level.’ Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. I think Santa Clara recognizes that.”

While programs like LEAD have had a tremendous impact in a small amount of time, there is more work to do.

Alison Benders, vice president for Mission and Ministry at Santa Clara, points out that many of the most meaningful immersion and volunteer experiences that serve the community and facilitate student growth are financially unavailable to some first-generation students.

“Trying to secure donor support for immersions, for paid internships and trying to help mentor these students is critical,” Benders says.

And giving equal exposure to first-gen students isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an investment that will pay real dividends to the University, its mission and its surrounding communities. Not only are LEAD students among the highest performing students year in and year out at Santa Clara, but Benders, at least anecdotally, has seen how they pay forward the help they receive.

LEAD Scholars are also the most likely to use their experiences to return to their own or other historically excluded communities to engage in nonprofit or other work that improves the lives of those who live there.

“This is a group of students who wants to give back, wants the training, the preparation, the mentoring, yet has the least resources in terms of family financial support to be able to do those things,” Benders said. “Helping them with that is a really critical piece.”

By Shannon Murphy Fennie, Assistant Dean of Students, The University of Scranton

Frequently, I ask students why they chose The University of Scranton. Unfailingly, they mention the strong sense of community, proximity to family and friends, wide array of majors offered, or amazing food on campus. Many will also share how their Scranton education is transformational. However, for one group of students, their Scranton education is not just personally transformative, but life-changing for their entire family.

First-generation college students (sometimes referred to as “first-gen” students) are the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university in the U.S. First-gen students make up 22 percent of the undergraduate student body at Scranton. To meet the diverse needs of our first-gen students and foster their success at Scranton, we launched the THR1VE program in 2019. In the spirit of cura personalis, THR1VE programming celebrates and supports first-generation students throughout their time at the University.

The University of Scranton joined with colleges across the country to celebrate National First-Generation College Student Day. From left are Shannon Murphy Fennie, assistant dean of students, and GU1DE peer mentors Kayla Abcede and Ashley Walker. (All photos courtesy The University of Scranton)


THR1VE focuses on three pillars: understanding and celebrating the first-generation identity; connecting students to resources; and celebrating students’ successes. Programming builds upon the diverse experiences and perspectives first-generation students bring to the college community. First-gen students are typically smart, resilient, and determined, experienced in overcoming hurdles and handling challenges. THR1VE focuses on augmenting students’ strengths while filling in gaps where they may need assistance to successfully navigate their college experience.

Celebrating the First-Generation Identity

Research suggests that common barriers to success in college for first-generation students include the lack of social capital on campus; navigating the often-complex higher education systems; balancing high academic expectations and family obligations; and battling imposter syndrome. The first pillar of THR1VE focuses on building a community for first-gen students and helping them to see that they are not alone on campus. To support this effort, office door identifiers are distributed so that students can see which faculty and staff identify as first-gen or first-gen advocates and are committed to supporting them. These markers proudly adorn offices throughout campus so that our first-generation students know they are never alone.

Another tool designed to help students is our “How to Speak Scranton” jargon decoder. Data from our first-gen students showed that the acronyms used on campus were often confusing, and first-generation students were not sure where to go for assistance in understanding campus language. We created the jargon decoder and offered it through our Orientation app so that students could have the same access to the language of our campus to feel included right from the start. Parents and guardians also have access to the decoder through the Orientation app and website to allow students and their supporters to speak the same language when talking about their experience at the University.

Connecting to Resources

Through our first-generation needs assessment conducted in late 2018, we learned that a struggle to connect with resources was a significant concern. Students spoke to being overwhelmed with information at New Student Orientation, but then not remembering where to go for assistance once classes were underway. Now, the THR1VE monthly newsletter scaffolds student resources based on the time of the academic year and the class year of the student. For example, the October newsletters focus on tutoring services, imposter syndrome and wellness resources for first-year and sophomore students, and on career development, internships and financial wellness for juniors and seniors. We find that providing students with appropriate resources just prior to their needing the information reduces stress and allows students to navigate the systems independently. Topics are selected by the THR1VE Advisory Board, which is made up of a cross-representation of first-generation students representing all class years and all our colleges.

Front row: THR1VE Advisory Board member Damain Morris. Back row: GU1DE peer mentor Maame Addison and Fennie.


While the newsletter is helpful, we recognize the many benefits of peer-to-peer mentoring. Such mentoring is a powerful learning opportunity for mentors and mentees. Launched this year, the GU1DE peer mentoring program pairs first-year first-gen students with upper division first-generation volunteer mentors. Mentors and mentees meet every two weeks to discuss topics based on the needs of the first-year student. Plans are underway for an upper division mentoring program with that will connect junior and senior students with first-generation alumni with the goal of easing the post-graduation transition.

“I really appreciated having a mentor my first year on campus,” said Vanessa Moylan ’24. “She helped me feel welcome on campus and helped me adjust to a new atmosphere because she went through the same exact experience. It is nice to have someone always looking out for you and to have someone in times of need to fall back on.”

Celebrating Students’ Successes

It is powerful for students to be able to celebrate their successes in community. As such, Scranton joined with colleges across the country to celebrate National First-Generation College Student Day by hosting events on campus and marking the day with a special message to the community from University President Rev. Joseph Marina, S.J. This day focused on bringing students together to mingle with other members of the first-generation community, participate in our resource Jeopardy for prizes, and talk with first-gen staff members in a variety of student service offices.

First-Generation College Students Can Go Anywhere

“First-generation students have said that they are thankful for the resources the University has given them. They find the programming to be helpful to them,” said Elizabeth Garcia, J.D., special assistant to the President and executive director of the Office of Equity and Diversity.

As someone who is a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation American, Atty. Garcia knows from personal experience just how valuable these resources are to students.

Seven of the 11 members of the President’s Cabinet at The University of Scranton are first-generation college graduates, including Rev. Joseph Marina, S.J., President (first row, far right); Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D. (first row, second from right); Elizabeth Garcia, J.D. (first row, third from right); and (back row, from left) Patricia Tetreault; Rev. Herbert Keller, S.J.; Susan Bowen; and Gerry Zaboski.


As a member of the President’s Cabinet, she, along with six other first-generation senior leaders, can provide support for this initiative. They know first-hand the extra hurdles a first-generation student must leap to graduate from college and are also aware of the boundless possibilities a college education offers.

“THR1VE brings a sense of belonging and community for those who identify as first-gen at Scranton. It helps break down the feeling of imposter syndrome and fear of being a first-gen student at a university where many students are not,” said Scranton graduate student Ashley Walker ‘21, G’22. “It helps students realize that they are not alone and gives them role models as they navigate the many unique challenges a first-gen student may experience,”

The key message Atty. Garcia would give to first-generation students is simply this: “Everything is possible.”

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU

January 2022 marks the start of a new year and the midpoint of the 117th Congress. The second session of any Congress presents challenges and hurdles that legislators and the administration will have to navigate to successfully complete action on important policy issues. The process and the politics are going to play a significant role this session, influencing both the policy agenda and policy outcomes.

A hefty legislative agenda greets federal legislators this week. Before we take a look at what is ahead and consider the legislative agenda, let’s take a moment to consider the basics of how Congress works.

Legislation Starts With an Idea

Legislation starts with an idea. Anyone who has identified a need, a problem or a solution relating to a federal policy or program can bring that idea to a legislator and advocate for it to be introduced as a bill. Ideas for bills or legislation often come from constituents, interest groups, businesses, staff or members themselves. Bills can be introduced by any member of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

A Congress is a two-year period made up of two sessions. On average, in any given Congress, thousands of bills are introduced, and very few become law on their own. Sometimes, introduced bills are re-crafted as amendments to other bills and can find their way into law that way. Senators and Representatives have those two years of a Congress to navigate the legislative process and get their bills to the President’s desk.

As we know from our government classes or Schoolhouse Rock, the road for a bill to become a law is long and often rocky. For example, in the 116th Congress (2019–2020), 14,153 bills were introduced, but only 344 became public law.

Re-election and “Lame Duck Session” Factors

The second session of a Congress also marks the start of the election period for all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, whose two-year terms expire at the start of 2023, and for one-third of U.S. Senators who are in cycle (Senators are elected for a six-year term). The looming November election often leads to greater partisan divides and can make passing legislation even more challenging.

Each party, seeking to strengthen its position in advance of the election, will be extra mindful of the impact of giving the other party a “win” on legislation. The party in power will work hard to find ways to achieve “wins” and point to successes party members can talk about back home. As is often the case (and more so with the partisan divide at a high), this dynamic can result in few things getting passed and signed into law in the second session of a Congress.

The “lame duck” session is the period after the November election and before the end of the session. Lawmakers who will not be returning in the next Congress still represent their districts, make decisions and take votes on legislation. Sometimes, during a lame duck, the release of re-election pressure invites greater freedom for compromise and agreement. According to a Pew Research Center report, the lame duck session of the 116th Congress was relatively productive, with 44 percent of public laws being passed during that post-election period. The dynamics of this lame duck are unpredictable and will depend a great deal on who holds or gains the majority in the House and Senate.

Plenty to Do

The House and the Senate are subject to different rules. The agenda in the House is controlled by the party with the most seats, and bills only need a simple majority to pass. In the Senate, while the agenda is also controlled by the majority party, to advance legislation, one needs a super-majority, or 60 votes, to end debate on a bill and advance it to a vote (i.e., overcome a filibuster). To date, the House has passed 379 bills while the Senate has advanced 147. So far, the 117th Congress has produced 81 public laws.

As the second session of the 117th Congress begins, the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats have important legislation they would like to pass including voting rights protections and filibuster reform in the Senate. Most Democrats have not given up hope that they can also pass the budget reconciliation bill—known as Build Back Better—though that legislation is on hold, and it may have to be substantially reworked in order to advance.

This week, all eyes are on the Senate, and rule change and voting rights will be the main events. Prospects for passage remain low, but Democrats are committed to beginning debate and calling for votes on both proposals.

There is plenty more to do. Congress must complete action on the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY’22) appropriations bills. While there have been promising reports that the “four corners” (the House and Senate Committee Chairs from both parties) have begun discussions, the election year politics will play an outsized role in their negotiations. Also, during this second session, lawmakers will have to tackle the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY’23) appropriations bills. Normally, this process begins in early February when the President sends up a budget for consideration. This year, President Biden will send up his budget to Congress in mid-March, after the State of the Union speech, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.

Where We Go From Here

Taking into account the process and this year’s politics, it becomes clear that the second session of the 117th Congress will be tough. Despite these challenges, AJCU will continue to advocate for our students and our institutions.

Keeping in mind the role that politics plays in policy-making, reviewing the legislative process and taking time to understand the landscape of “the Hill,” advocates can continue to make a case for policies that matter to their constituencies and continue to push for their agenda.

For AJCU, that means navigating the realities of the second session to the best of our ability and continuing to fight for increases to federal financial aid programs like the Pell Grant, Federal Work Study and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grants in FY’22 and FY’23.

Where do we go from here? Onward.