“I hope that someday I can be a positive influence on my students.”
Georgia Grana knows better than most that being the first isn’t always easy. She was the first in her family to fill out a college application and the first one to be accepted. She was the first among her family’s four children to leave the California city where they grew up and the first to move halfway across the country to attend a college she’d never been to. None of it was easy.
But as someone who practically lived at the library and read constantly growing up, she learned from the heroes and heroines of countless stories that life’s greatest rewards are often found outside what is familiar and comfortable. She learned that out in the unknown, she would find out who she really was.
It was in those books, or because of them, that she got the first hint of what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing. She thought being a teacher was the best way to be sure she could spend the rest of her life immersed in books and learning. And the path to becoming a teacher went through college.
When she went looking for programs to attend, she found that Western Colorado University was affordable and offered students the opportunity to enroll in an accelerated degree program that would trim the time it took to get her master’s degree, saving her even more money.
The Challenges of First-Generation College Students
Still, even for someone as driven as Georgia, attending college as a first-generation student is incredibly hard; the statistics bear that out. According to data compiled by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, while 95 percent of first-generation students persist in bachelor’s degree programs past their first year, only 24 percent have earned a degree five years later.
While the reasons for the attrition rates are less clear, Georgia said, “I think a unique challenge first-generation students face is not knowing who to go to when we face challenges. Most people can ask their parents or siblings about the application process, financial aid, student loans, or any other questions while they’re going through college.”
One of the advantages Georgia and other first-generation students have at Western is the EPIC Mentors program, which provides every incoming student with a student mentor who serves as a resource they can go to for guidance and support, regardless of whether or not they have a similar resource at home.
“I think something that was a surprise to me when I got to Western was how many people there are to turn to when you are facing a challenge. For a while, I figured I was on my own going through college, but Western has so many people to talk to about the challenges everyone faces,” she said. “Not only being first-generation but also being away from home, I have struggled with knowing things most students seem to have common knowledge about, so I’ll turn to my academic advisor and meet with the advisors in the financial aid office to help me keep track of things I may not know.”
Giving Back to the Community
Georgia knows that her experience gives her a valuable perspective that other students can benefit from, so as she was looking for ways to give back to the campus community, she found the perfect opportunity among the EPIC Mentors, where she can be the resource that first-year Western students from any background can turn to.
“My mom played a major role in my decision to go to college. She always talked about the doors that would open for me if I attended college and got a degree,” Georgia said. “Now I’m studying Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM). I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in elementary school, and I hope that someday I can be the positive influence on my students that my teachers were for me.”
Author Credit: Seth Mensing