Panel shares tips, inspiration for first-gen students
Caption: First-Generation College Day panel at OSU-OKC on Nov. 1, 2023. From left: Elian Nunez, Diana Benhmida, Deborah Morgan, John Standfill, Faith Romo, Ashley Fieth and Arturo Alonso-Sandoval.
Hundreds of students, faculty and staff celebrated first-generation college students as part of an event at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City.
OSU-OKC marked First Generation College Day on the OSU-OKC campus on Nov. 1, in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
A resource fair was held from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by a panel discussion at noon hosted by Oklahoma House Representative Arturo Alonso-Sandoval.
Alonso-Sandoval is a recent college graduate, attaining a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Oklahoma. Alonso-Sandoval is among the youngest elected officials in the legislature at age 24 and represents Oklahoma’s 89th district. Alonso-Sandoval is a first-generation American, bilingual, and the son of immigrant parents from Mexico.
Panelists included current and former OSU-OKC students who are first-generation college students in their families. They offered advice to first-generation students considering college, and shared stories from their journeys. Panelists were Elian Nunez, Diana Benhmida, Faith Romo, Ashley Fieth and John Standfill. All were or are involved with Project SOAR in their time at OSU-OKC. Project SOAR is designed to promote educational access for underrepresented students.
Benhmida is a nursing student at OSU-OKC.
Benhmida, a mother of four, said that growing up, college was never in the picture for her. But now, “I’m trying to break that cycle for my children,” she said. “I tell myself I’m one day closer to my goal than I was yesterday.”
Nunez attended Upward Bound at OSU-OKC. The federally funded program for high schoolers is intended to help potential first-generation students. Nunez, now in his first semester at OSU-OKC, encouraged potential students to look into timelines for college goals beginning in high school. He said for first-generation students, finding information on where to go that fits your needs can be difficult, but shouldn’t be insurmountable.
“Challenges are part of life,” he said. “Failures should be pushing you forward.”
Fieth, an OSU-OKC graduate, said it was important to be willing to change and grow as a college student.
“It’s OK to fail,” she said. “You’ll change as a person; you’ll change as a student.”
Standfill, president of the Things That Matter club at OSU-OKC, praised the support available at the college and the grit of those first-generation students that make the effort to find a path.
“It takes a lot of discipline, commitment, and hard work,” he said.
Romo, a recent OSU-OKC graduate now attending OU, said being an inspiration to her younger sister helped motivate her.
“Don’t be scared,” she told potential students. “There’s younger generations watching, so keep going.”
Alonso-Sandoval said Oklahoma needs the voices of first-generation students to help make the future of the state bright.
“It’s limitless what the potential is for anyone and everyone,” he said.