In order to celebrate the achievements of graduating first-generation college students, UC San Diego’s Triton Firsts initiative has created a virtual space to recognize these individuals for the first time in the university’s history. Given the current state of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the university decided to utilize the internet to showcase the success of these undergraduate students.
As reported by the UCSD administration, more than 39 percent of the undergraduate student body are first-generation college students. These students would become the first person in their families to graduate from a four-year college.
According to this article from the Journal of Higher Education, first-generation college students on average come from underprivileged households and face more obstacles than their peers in order to graduate.
The initiative, created by the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Student Retention and Success, aims to create virtual profiles on a new website to honor students’ scholarly work and their involvement in clubs and organizations. Students will also have a chance to thank all the people who have supported them throughout their academic career.
“For many first-generation college students, the attainment of a bachelor’s degree is the culmination of generations of hard work, one where students are celebrated for their accomplishments, and are able to show gratitude for the support they have received from family, loved ones, and their community on and off campus,” an email to UCSD students said. “We want to ensure that students still have the opportunity to celebrate and be recognized for their tremendous accomplishments, even during these unprecedented times.”
The university had initially planned to host an in-person event to send off the students and to award them commemorative pins. Working jointly with the First-Generation Student Association, Triton Firsts organized a team to prepare for the event, but with the rise of COVID-19 cases, the event was called off for fears of spreading the disease.
“When the pandemic started to impact our in person events and we all began to work remotely, we had to make the difficult decision of cancelling the in person event,” Assistant Director of Communications at UCSD Christine Clark said to The UCSD Guardian in an email. “We worked on a proposal and planned for the virtual recognition and shared it system-wide with the 10 other UCs. The UC Office of the President is supporting these efforts along with our campus leadership and student body. In addition, the event is being supported by the Virtual Collaborative, so a cross campus group of stakeholders are working to make sure this virtual recognition is successful.”
In addition to having the profiles on the new website, Triton Firsts will feature some of these graduates on UCSD’s official Instagram. The initiative is also working with the commencement committee to give students the opportunity to include their identification as first-generation students in the UCSD 2020 virtual yearbook. Once the students graduate, they will also be included in a new Tritons Connect group that allows them to speak with alumni and provides them with opportunities to receive mentorship and build networks.
Students like Roger Revelle College senior Gage Marquez welcome the new initiative and are pleased that the university is giving them recognition for their hard work.
“It means so much that the university is taking a moment to recognize students such as myself who are reaching new milestones within our lineages,” Marquez said in an interview with The Guardian. “While I am so grateful to have UCSD recognize me for what was a challenging journey to say the least, I am even more grateful of the positive impact the university is making on my family. Knowing that [my family] get to see how all of their hard work and sacrifices to give me a better life have paid off and having a university that recognizes those sacrifices means the world to me.”
UCSD has also provided first-generation students with various programs and events to support students throughout their academic career. By hosting events like the First-Generation Career Readiness Conference or having programs like TRIO Student Support Services, the university has multiple mechanisms to encourage students to achieve their four-year degrees.
“The Student Success Program really helped me transition from high school to college,” Gage added. “The program provided me with a counselor, early class enrollment, and dozens of resources for academic support and professional development. In addition, UCSD itself offers a wide array of networking opportunities that allowed me to gain internships and build my career.”
This recognition initiative will continue each year to celebrate new graduating first-generation students. If you would like to take part in this initiative, please fill out this form or contact [email protected] for more information.
This article was updated at 8:30 p.m. on 5/10/2020 to clarify the definition of first-generation college students.
Artwork by Yui Kita for the UCSD Guardian.