GCU’s first-generation students find their footing
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Freshman Nora Muniz and her friends Diana Ruiz and Blanca Almada had just arrived at Grand Canyon University from their home state of California earlier this fall.
No one in their immediate family had ever gone to college, and they didn’t feel completely comfortable as new students on campus.
“At first we just sat in the dorm and didn’t go out,” Muniz said.
“It’s stressful being the first generation to go to college,” Ruiz added.
But GCU’s expanded efforts to reach out to its significant first-generation student population helped get them out of the residence hall and involved in the campus community.
They learned where to get their questions answered. They heard about events on campus.
Eventually, the trio felt comfortable enough to go to the Lip Sync contest in GCU Arena, packed with excited students. They joined a Canyon Activities Board event, making S’mores.
“It was fun,” Muniz said. “We came out and started to meet people.”
That’s one of this year’s goals for the Associated Students of GCU, the student government organization working with the Academic and Career Excellence Centers: Help first-generation students feel at home on campus and answer questions on the logistics of navigating college life.
Its first-generation student celebration on the lawn outside the Antelope Reception Center on Friday was more than just a chance to munch free macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets over the lunch hour.
“It’s a huge population at GCU that sometimes feel underserved and don’t feel like there are resources for them,” said Ben Claypool, ASGCU’s executive vice president. “We want to be there for them.”
Often, first-generation students can’t lean on parents who have higher education experience to guide them.
“My parents didn’t go to college, and not having people who have been in college means I’ve had to do it on my own,” said Senoia Ortiz, who transferred from community college and lives at home. “It’s been hard.”
Living off campus, it wasn’t always easy for Ortiz to know what was going on.
But she was busy circling numerous tables to get more information, stopping at the Havocs table to learn about basketball games and other tables where volunteers described opportunities for fitness classes, outreach opportunities and ways to get academic assistance.
Often, it was students helping students.
Ashley Tobar is a first-generation junior who answered questions at the table for Spiritual Life outreach.
“I truly understand the struggles for commuter students,” she said. “I hope I can get them involved.”
When she found outreach, her involvement with helping children in foster care opened her eyes to their challenges but also made her feel linked to the University’s charge to help others.
“That is the mission of GCU,” she said. “What these kids go through has had a big impact on my life.”
Through the first-generation events, including the social earlier this semester, students meet others who have been through it.
For Arianna Martinez, a freshman, even applying for college or financial aid was an unknown, but after she got to GCU, things got easier, especially after she met Katerin Ixtabalan, a third-year student who is also first-generation.
“As a freshman everything is new,” she said. “Now when I don’t know where to go, I can ask her.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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