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Empowering Voices: First-Generation College Students and Staff Share their Stories

Three staff members, Lynnsae Powers, Crystal Stubbs, and Kaleah Kinsey sitting at a table in front of a blue presentation at a panel.

“I see you, because I was you,” says Lynnsae Powers, Director of Persistence Support Resources and co-advisor of Tri-Alpha Honor Society. “At Cedar Crest we really do a great job of breaking the veil and saying, ‘I was there, I see you. I’ve been you, and you can do this.’ I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, but we can do this, so how can I best support you to make that happen?” 

Cedar Crest College students, faculty, and staff gathered to share their first-generation journeys on Wednesday, November 8, to celebrate National First-Generation Day. The enlightening discussion was led by Noor Hussain and featured several panelists including Dr. Jill Purdy, Crystal Stubbs, and Sherry Rodriguez. Special guests Lynnsae Powers, Kaleah Kinsey, and Stephanie Walker were also crucial to the conversation, as were those in attendance who shared their first-generation collegiate experiences.  

Conversation circulated around personal experience as a first-generation student, the challenges that first-generation college students face, the resources in place, and the advice that would’ve made all the difference to know when attending college as the first person in a family. 

“I wish someone would’ve told me to get out there, get out of your comfort zone,” says Noor Hussain, Cedar Crest senior and Tri-Alpha Honor Society President. “Go to the event, be uncomfortable, talk to people. Make connections and find mentors.” 

About 42% of Cedar Crest’s undergraduate students are first-generation, and that number is congruent with the graduate population as well, resulting in nearly half the campus consisting of self-identified first-generation students — a percentage that is sure to rise in upcoming years. 

“The best advice I could’ve given myself and any other first-gen student is when somebody says no, ask again,” says Stephanie Walker, Vice President of Enrollment Management. “Ask again in a different way, and maybe get a second or third source. Proactively take part in your education, and don’t be afraid to seek answers. 

“Graduating as a first-generation student is an accomplishment. Is it going to be easy? No, but when you walk across that stage, you know you worked for it. Nobody handed it to you; you didn’t get it on a silver platter. You walked every single one of those steps and you earned that.”