First-generation college freshmen narrate their experiences during the pandemic

First-generation students share their thoughts and reflections on the remote semester

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

Nina Walat

By Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram, Collegian Staff

Many first-generation college students at the University of Massachusetts were dismayed with the COVID-19 situation for the fall semester. Since college wasn’t just a step they were taking for themselves, but for their family as a whole, many had much greater expectations for their freshman year, which is now mostly remote due to the pandemic.

Autumn Reynolds, a public health science major, expressed her feelings about being a first-generation student.

“I feel honored to be granted this title and I know I am going to [do] great things in college and in my life beyond,” she said. “My number one goal is to make my parents proud and to show them how much their efforts have paid off.”

Reynolds explained that she was let down by the news that campus would be mostly closed to students: “I was very disappointed about the shutting down of campus as I have been looking forward to my first year in college for as long as I can remember.”

She also highlighted how the campus closure affected her family.

“It was also hard on the family due to the fact that not only was it a monumental first step for me, but it also represented a new beginning for my parents,” she said. Being first-generation also affected her application process, since “my parents aren’t familiar with the process of applying to college or the necessary forms and applications that came with it in any way.”

Although they couldn’t help her out by using their own personal experiences, Reynolds’ parents still offered encouragement, she said.

“It has been a bit challenging at times, but I am glad that I have their support and willingness to help every step of the way,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds offered a message of perseverance and hope to first generation college students at UMass during this time.

“We are the beginning of an era. What comes next for ourselves and for the generations after us all starts with us. Our parents have sacrificed to get us to this point, and it is now up to us to continue this fight for better and make them proud,” Reynolds said.

Elizabeth Pereiramendes, an environmental science major, also recounted her experiences as a first-generation freshman student during the pandemic.

“Although exciting, it’s genuinely such a scary feeling to be in higher education,” Pereiramendes said. “There is so much pressure to succeed and make something of myself, everything I do needs to be calculated because I’m not just pursuing higher education for myself, I’m also pursuing it for my family, for my mom.”

Though the transition has been tough, Pereiramendes said UMass has helped her get adjusted along the way.

“There are so many free resources, like tutoring, that I can take advantage of to help me with my learning,” she said. “I believe UMass has held a seminar for first-gen students, but I didn’t look into it too much.”

“I wasn’t able to count on my parents for help with things like homework and projects past middle school, it was all foreign to them,” said Pereiramendes, while speaking of her educational goals. “Because of these experiences, it felt that much harder to achieve what I wanted, a college education.”

She also said that the intersectionality of being a first-generation college student and a first-generation American meant taking on more roles in application process.

“I had to be the student and the parent at times, for example, I filled out my own FASFA and my mom’s FASFA form because she didn’t know how, and I filled out all of my college applications on my own,” she said.

Thomas Vo, a mechanical engineering major, described his journey as a first-generation student as well.

“My family support that [I want to be the first one to go to college] and I want to live up to their dreams, I want to show them something that they [have] never experienced before,” said Vo. “Even though my parents don’t pressure me in what I want to do in life, I want to work as hard [as possible].”

He talked about being a role model for future generations of his family.

“Since I’m the first [one to go to college] in the family, I didn’t get a good reference or role model to look up to, which means [that] I’m the role model being represented [for all my other family members],” Vo said.

Vo also talked about how inspired he feels by other first-generation students: “Being a first-gen and seeing other first-gens in college is a moment for me to think, ‘Wow there are people like me who want to work as hard.’”

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.