#RadfordFirstGen Highlanders: Setting the path

First-generation students Melissa Mowbray (left) and Gabby Hurt

When Rocio Alba was just an infant, her family immigrated to the United States from Argentina.

“They wanted a better life for us,” Alba explained. “They knew there would be more opportunities for us here.”

Years later, Alba is now a thriving sophomore at Radford University. She is a first-generation student who is studying communication and aspires to be a journalist.

“I tell my parents that we came here for a better future, and I’m living that future,” Alba said.

Alba’s inspirational story of resiliency and determination was just one of many shared during the National First-Generation College Celebration on November 9, 2020. On this day, universities and colleges across the country were encouraged to recognize this special population of students, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend a higher education institution.

At Radford University, hundreds of first gens passed through the Bonnie Plaza, where they were greeted with cheers of encouragement and plenty of gear to recognize their achievements.  

“First-generation college students are trailblazers,” said Associate Vice President for Student Life Tricia Smith, who helped hand out special #RadfordFirstGen T-shirts and other swag. “It is so important that we not only honor that spirit but also surround them with support and resources.”

Similar to her classmates, sophomore Gabby Hurt’s parents played a critical role in her decision to pursue higher education.

“My mom was never able to attend college. She told me she wanted me to live the life she never had,” said Hurt, who is studying psychology. “I’m also doing this for my dad. He passed away two years ago, and I want to make him proud.”

Many students referred to their families as the fuel that ignited their desire to attend Radford University. Hard-working and supportive families were a common theme.

First-generation student Joseph Seminerio

Joseph Seminerio, a senior computer science major, said neither of his parents had the financial means to attend college. 

“My mom had three sisters. My dad had three brothers. Higher education just wasn’t a choice for them growing up with such a large family,” he explained. “So, they worked hard to make sure we could go wherever we wanted to go.”

Now, Seminerio is setting the path for his younger sibling.

His sister is enrolled at a local community college and plans to transfer to Radford University to earn a nursing degree.

Approximately 30% of current Radford University undergraduate students are first-generation. These Highlanders face a unique set of challenges compared to students from households with family members who have attended college. Living away from home, signing up for classes, figuring out financial aid and navigating campus are just a few examples of the college experience first-gen students and their families might find overwhelming.

Participating in the national first-gen event is just one of many ways the campus community comes together to help guide and support these students and all those who can proudly call themselves first generation.

“It is important that the Radford family clear a path for their success, which can include mentorship, education, good communication and celebrating achievements,” Smith said. “We want our first-generation students to know, ‘We’ve all got our arms around you.’”

Nov 30, 2020
Mary Hardbarger
(540) 831-5150