First-Generation Students Honored at New Pinning Ceremony

Jayne Seitz, Tamara Farrow and Priya Parikh of First Ospreys getting ready to pin other first-gen students for the ceremony.

Galloway, N.J. — Students at the Nov. 9 National First-Generation Week Reception learned just how large of a community they have at Stockton University when Christopher Catching, vice president of Student Affairs, shared that around 50% of the students here identify as first-generation students.

“Being first-generation is part of the DNA here,” Catching said. “This institution was founded in 1969 and officially opened in 1971, and it’s always served first-generation and post-traditional students. Based on this year’s numbers, about 4,700 students identify as first-gen.”

I hope that, as you navigate your first-gen story, you allow yourself space for your story to unfold and that you don’t force what’s going to be written on that page."
Ashlee Roberts

First-generation students are students whose parents or immediate families don’t currently hold a four-year college/university degree. This can impact one’s college experience, as explained by Priya Parikh, a student and treasurer for First Ospreys.

“Being a first-gen student comes with many struggles, some of which include being unaware of college processes and filing the FAFSA,” Parikh said.

However, being a first-generation student at Stockton doesn’t have to be a struggle but an identity to be proud of. After getting support from offices such as Career Education and Development and Financial Aid, both Parikh and Aleyshka Barbosa, president of First Ospreys, can attest to that.

“Being first-generation has been more of a strength of mine here at Stockton University and our campus culture,” Parikh said. “Being able to present your first-generation identity on our campus is something to be proud of, and I hope you all leave here today feeling proud to wear it on your sleeve.”

“I hold (being a part of First Ospreys) super dear to my heart and, my friends will tell you, being first-gen is one of my biggest identities,” Barbosa said. “I’m very proud of it, and I hope that you all can feel how proud I am of you all. This is a big thing to celebrate.”

Catching’s sentiments about the reception mirrored Barbosa’s, as he considered it a “momentous occasion.”

“We’re committed to serving our first-gen students because we transform lives,” Catching said. “It’s bigger than you; being the first person in your family to attend college, chances are that you have people watching you. You may have siblings or cousins depending on you or even parents who are inspired by you to complete this journey as well.”

In addition to a well-received pasta dinner provided by Chartwells, students who attended participated in a pinning ceremony.

To be first-gen means...
to be more than, to achieve and succeed beyond my parents’ wildest dreams. For I have witnessed their challenges, sacrifices and loss – it is not about me, it is about us and the future generations that shall come. Write down your "why" to kindly remind yourself during challenging and difficult times along your journey. Do not be afraid to ask for help nor ask questions, (even the "silly" questions). It is OK to not know, what you do not know; so long as you have the motivation and drive to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember to network, connect and use your resources! Lastly, you are not alone, you cannot and will not do this on your own — be sure to pay it forward & help someone on their journey.

Jhanna Jean-Louis
Jhanna Jean-Louis
Director of Student Affairs, Finance, Administration and Operations
Student Affairs

As the first-generation student in my family to attend college, I had the opportunity to realize my dream to become a physical therapist clinician.  While I enjoyed my clinical role, my involvement in the HIV pandemic fostered my research skills.  Facilitating classroom discussions as a professor continues my commitment to giving back to future health care professionals. Through every degree, my skills were honed, and provided incredible opportunities to serve in the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics and care for underserved populations and cancer survivors locally and globally through my Fulbright Scholar role.

Mary Lou Galantino
Mary Lou Galantino
Distinguished Professor of Physical Therapy
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Being a first-generation student means breaking generational curses and setting up my future generations for success. To my family, it means that my parents’ sacrifices and hard work to support me in my success were worth it. I was able to endure my experiences and learn because of their sacrifices and my embracing of how I can make sure my future is successful.

Read more about her on Stockton Voices.
Britney Marrugo
Britney Marrugo
Communication Studies major and president of Los Latinos Unidos

As a first-gen student, I did not fully understand the opportunities that were presented to me in the world of academia. While my family valued education, I did not think that I would have the opportunity to attend a four-year institution. Because of scholarships, I was able to have a successful undergraduate career at Stockton University, and Stockton provides a wonderful environment for me to grow as a scholar.  I was fortunate to have professors who took me under their wing and helped me recognize that I had the skill set to continue my educational path in graduate school, and they provided the support and encouragement to follow this path. I never would have recognized that graduate school was part of my life plan without their direction and support. I am grateful for all of their help in recognizing and following the road markers that have guided my academic experience.

Judith Vogel
Judith Vogel
Professor of Mathematics
School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Being a first-gen graduate means that you can do almost anything you put your mind to.

The advice I have for first-gen student to thrive is ...
the first few months might be stressful and confusing, but it gets much easier.
Patricia Fazio
Patricia Fazio
Electronic Resources Coordinator
Richard E. Bjork Library

Being first-gen means being able to honor my parents’ hopes that I would "do better" than they did with my education. It means I kept the promise to myself that I would not squander my academic gifts.
My advice for first-gen students to thrive is...
no one knows everything. If you're uncertain what you should be doing with a class, a social situation, paperwork, etc. never hesitate to reach out to the many offices around Stockton that can help guide you!

Kyle Zack
Kyle Zack
Campus Experience and Events Coordinator
Being a first-generation college student is special to me. It means accomplishing a milestone in which I am the first in my family to do so. Reflecting back on my college experience now as a senior, it has had its highs and lows. I felt lost compared to my peers who had someone in their families to whom they could go for college guidance. However, I am so grateful for organizations such as the First Ospreys Club as it has helped guide me during my time at Stockton University.

Read more about her on Stockton Voices.
Cierra Johnson
Cierra Johnson
Biology major and Change Builder
To me, being first-gen means...
celebrating the fact that I am the first person in my family to obtain a Bachelor's and Master's Degree, and now working on a Doctorate.

The advice I have for first-gen students to thrive is to...
set goals (short-term and long-term) and dream big!
Trish Collins
Trish Collins
Community Engagement Liaison and Adjunct Instructor
Stockton Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning
Being a first-generation college student means being the first in my family to pursue a higher education that will set a new path for the next generation. To my family, being a first-generation represents the efforts and sacrifices my parents faced to provide me with the opportunities they did not have. If not for my parents, I would not be here today. Their hard work and resilience are what motivate me to keep going.  

Read more about her on Stockton Voices.
Rachel Rodriguez
Rachel Rodriguez
Biology major with a concentration in Pre-Professional Studies

“This is our celebration and recognition of you all taking this step to earn your bachelor’s degree,” Ashlee Roberts, executive director of Student Affairs, Strategic Planning and Initiatives, said as the students of First Ospreys pinned the students.

Roberts went on to explain that the simple blue ribbon was a placeholder for a pin that will have “First to Soar” engraved on it. Once the students graduate, they will participate in another ceremony in the spring with pins that will display “First to Finish.”

Criminal Justice major Navanique Rowe and Biology major Sarah Pemberthy both enjoyed the reception and getting to know each other.

“It was definitely nice to be around different people because I came in here feeling nervous at first,” Rowe said. “I was glad that I was able to open up. It felt very welcoming here, and it’s nice to know that there are a lot of first-gen students here. I’m appreciative of the fact that I took time out to come instead of just going back to my dorm.”

“I had a great night,” Pemberthy said. “I was excited to meet new people, and I’m very excited to be a part of First Ospreys. I feel welcome and happy to continue being a part of it.”

In her closing remarks, Roberts encouraged students to connect with each other as well as with the staff and faculty.

“The thing that I learned from earning my Ph.D. was that, while it is a solo process, it is not a journey that you have to do by yourself,” Roberts said. “Even when it’s challenging, find ways to let people in and tell them what’s going on. I hope that, as you navigate your first-gen story, you allow yourself space for your story to unfold and that you don’t force what’s going to be written on that page. There’s so much to explore.”

— Story by Loukaia Taylor

— Photos by Eliza Hunt