When students bring their parents along to tour Washburn’s campus, oftentimes they are all experiencing college for the first time together. This was the case for Jenny Lieurance, senior communications major, president and founding member of We Are F1rst.
We Are F1rst is an organization that works to assist students who are the first to pursue a degree in their family. The organization began as Lieurance and a few other students began to recognize the disadvantages first-generation students experience.
“When I came to Washburn, I was still living at home,” Lieurance said. “It’s not like my family didn’t try to support me, they just didn’t understand that it’s normal to spend five or six hours studying in my room. It’s hard for people who haven’t been to college to really get it and support you in the way you need them to.”
Lieurance said she and five other students began We Are F1rst to provide the support that is necessary for students to thrive in college. She explained that first-generation students don’t always understand the terminology or the processes when they begin college, and this can be discouraging enough for them to give up.
“I didn’t know what a bachelor’s or associate’s degree even meant when I started,” Lieurance said. “I also had absolutely no idea what I was doing the first time I had to fill out the FAFSA.”
Approximately 50 percent of first-generation students nationwide end up getting a bachelor’s degree. This percentage hovers around 48 percent at Washburn. Lieurance believes that giving students a place where they can ask simple questions about how college works without feeling embarrassed could help them succeed.
“We try to connect students to Mario Portis, the first-generation specialist here at Washburn,” Lieurance said. “As soon as you open up about being a first-generation student, people understand and want to point you toward the resources you need to succeed.”
Vice president of We Are F1rst, Jessi De La Rosa, who is double majoring in history and communications, believes that being a first-generation student is a great opportunity for personal growth.
“My experience as a first-generation student has been challenging, but good,” De La Rosa said. “We are at a disadvantage. Learning all by yourself can be extremely hard, but we have the chance to change the path of our family. Being first is a good thing.”
We Are F1rst has its advocacy week in the spring. Each day is a different activity to try and reach out to students.
“We are still working on growth,” Lieurance said. “Students don’t have to face this experience alone. Connect with our organization. Try to be involved on campus. Be proud of being first.”