Caldwell, N.J., Nov. 8, 2019 – Caldwell University joined other colleges and universities in celebrating its first-generation university students on Nov. 8.
Speaking to the students, President Nancy Blattner shared how she was the first in her family to go to college. Her parents did not attend high school but encouraged their daughter to pursue education. “There are no limits to what you can do with an education. No one can take that away from you,” said President Blattner. And with that education they can help other family members, she said. Dr. Blattner assured the students that the university staff and faculty are there to help them succeed. “You are not alone as first-generation.”
First-generation freshman Hanirah Mitchner said Dr. Blattner’s comments made her feel appreciated. Leonela Martinez, another first-generation freshman, was happy to hear President Blattner’s “inspiring success story … if she can do it, we can do it too.”
The aim of Caldwell’s event was to celebrate the success of the students and to remind them of the supports available on campus to help them achieve their dreams and goals. It was held in the university’s new Eileen Jones Multicultural Center, named for the university’s first African-American student.
Celebrating first-generation students
In high school Ashley Williams never thought much about college and her teachers encouraged her to go to a community college, but she was accepted into the EOF program at Caldwell and never looked back. It is a “home away from home. I’m so blessed and happy,” said Williams, of Old Bridge, New Jersey. “I’m a name, not a number” said Williams, who is majoring in history and is busy working in the campus bookstore. She is grateful to faculty and staff members like history professor Dr. Marie Mullaney, her advisor, who Williams says has been “one of the best people—who helped me get to where I want to be.” As first generation in her family she wants to be a role model for her two nieces and hopes other high school students who think college is out of reach realize that “if you put the effort and time into it, it will happen.”
Senior Alicia Rodriguez says her parents are so excited about her graduation from college that they are already planning a huge party. “The only thing we talk about is my graduation.” Rodriguez, a resident of Union, New Jersey, says her parents—“the two smartest people I know”—did not go to college and have encouraged their daughter to keep pushing toward her goal of earning a university degree. The first-generation student is majoring in sport management and with a minor in pre-law and a long-term goal of becoming a sports attorney. During her undergraduate years when times were stressful, Melissa Cooke, her advisor in the School of Business and Computer Science, was always supportive and would give her good advice and “a huge push.” A member of the women’s lacrosse team, Rodriguez is also grateful to the Athletics Department, her coaches and teammates for their influence. The skills she learned on the field, like “being devoted and practicing more,” apply to academics and life in general. “Whatever I use in athletics, I use in my day-to-day life,” she said.
Sophomore Kasey Cox was raised by her grandparents and will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. “My family is proud of me,” said Cox, who grew up in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Sometimes being first generation presents challenges, like having to navigate financial aid processes, but she said the staff at Caldwell University has been super helpful. A psychology major with a criminal justice minor, Cox said EOF is her “saving grace.” She belongs to the sorority Delta Phi Epsilon and to the Psychology Club and is an EOF class representative. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she hopes to join the military and then become a school counselor. Cox encouraged other students who do not have family members who have gone to college, saying that with the support EOF, “It is easier than you think.”
Senior Ruth Jimenez appreciates that EOF holds students accountable for their grades. The staff in the office provides a great support system and helps with resources, but having someone monitoring your grades adds a “sense of accountability,” she said. Jimenez, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was seven, attended Becton Regional High School in East Rutherford. She is majoring in health care administration and hopes to go on for her master’s and eventually work in administration in a health care setting. Along with her studies, she works hard—on campus in the library and as a substitute teacher. Her parents always supported education and her mother graduated from college in her country, but Ruth will be the first in her family to receive a degree in the United States. That comes with “a big responsibility” since she is setting an example for her 10-year-old brother, who is already talking about going to college. “It was drilled into us,” said Jimenez.