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The Antelope

The Antelope

First-generation students celebrate their journeys

First-generation students bond with education community. Photo provided by Zahira Lopez / Antelope Staff

First-generation students, faculty and staff gathered in the Nebraskan Student Union to celebrate First-Gen Celebration Day on Nov. 9. The event featured free ice cream bars, T-shirts and a photo booth. 

First-generation leaders shared their experiences as the first in their families to attend college. 

“From humble beginnings come great opportunities,” said Kyle Means, co-chair of the First Generation Leadership Team. “That’s kind of the spirit of being a first-generation student, especially here at UNK. Just know that there are opportunities here to accomplish your dreams in your career and in your life.”

Means shared his own story of being a first-generation student in a single-parent household and his different paths that helped him be successful at UNK.

Laura Ibarra Arreguin, a senior studying elementary education, won The Trailblazer Award, which is awarded to an outstanding first-generation student. Letty Reichart, a biology professor, won the Friend of First-Gen Award, which is awarded to faculty or staff that go above and beyond to support first-generation students. 

Among attendees was Valeria Lozano, a UNK alumna who described the support she felt as a first-generation student.

“I got to know a lot of different people and made connections, but a lot of people helped me pave the way to get to where I am now,” Lozano said. “I think that was a really big thing that kept me here.”

Lozano is pursuing her master’s degree, and she is a recruitment specialist for the UNK Office of Admissions.

At UNK, roughly four in 10 students come from families where neither parent earned a four-year degree. 

Aaron Estes, the First-Gen Lopers student organization adviser, believes UNK is a great destination for those students. 

“Everywhere you go on campus, you can find somebody who themselves was a (first-generation) student, or if they weren’t, they appreciate what firsthand students bring to campus,” Estes said. “And they want to help.” 

Means had some advice for potential students thinking about coming to college. 

“There is a place for you in college,” Means said. “Sometimes there’s that (question of) ‘Do I belong here?’ because maybe there’s not that family history. And the answer is yes, yes you do.” 

The rest of the week’s activities included a lunch between faculty and students and a panel discussion to understand how to better support first-generation students. 

Other guided educational activities included a designated Free Application for Federal Student Aid day for one-on-one assistance and a wellness workshop with a dietitian for low-cost, healthy food options. 

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