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Uma Mahalingam


Assistant Director of the First-Generation Student Center

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History of the First-Generation Student Center

2018: Members of the Minority Faculty Staff Association (MFSA) started the conversation about providing additional supports to first-generation students.

2019: The First-Generation Action Team was created to identify the needs of first-generation college students and establish support systems across campus, hosting a First-Generation College Celebration in November.


  • As part of the College’s 2021-2022 Strategic Planning Process, the First-Generation Student Center was approved through the Priority Needs Proposal (PNP) process.
  • Ramapo was awarded the First-Generation College Celebration grant from the Center for First-generation Student Success and Council for Opportunity in Education (COE).
  • The inaugural Assistant Director for the First-Generation Student Center was hired in November, which led to the First-Generation Proclamation, where the President declared November as First-Generation College Celebration Month at Ramapo College (photograph below).

2023: Ramapo will establish the Zetu Nu Chapter of Tri- Alpha, a first-generation honor society.

Photo of staff, students, and President Cindy Jebb at the First-Generation College Celebration Proclamation on November 16, 2022

First-Generation Action Team (Executive Board)

Special acknowledgements to the First-Generation Action Team Executive Board Members who have assisted with the implementation of the First-Generation Student Center.

Diana Benavides
AACSB Accreditation Specialist
Anisfield School of Business

“Growing up as a first-gen student, I was expected to do well in school and go to college even though my parents were not familiar with the college process or the culture of higher education. I am thankful for the educators, guidance counselors and people in my community who helped me access various educational opportunities and supported me in my journey. This experience led me to a career in higher education and I hope to provide similar support to the students I work with.”

Cynthia Gutiérrez Michalewski
Senior Assistant Director
Cahill Career Development Center

“Being the eldest child and the first in the family to attend college, I clearly remember feeling lost and under a lot of self-imposed pressure to not let my family down. My door is always open to any first-gen student who needs a place to go and ask for help. You belong here, you are home!”

Jacklin Kurter
First-Generation Counselor & Outreach Specialist
Counseling Services

“I support first-generation students by providing a safe and confidential space to talk, by assisting with resources, and by encouraging a sense of belonging and empowerment. I will strive to provide assistance based on your specific experience and needs. Whether it is your first time seeking counseling or you are returning, I look forward to working with you at the Ramapo Counseling Center!”

Uma MahalingamPhoto of Uma Mahalingam, Assistant Director of the First-Generation Student Center
Assistant Director
First-Generation Student Center

“It is my goal to serve as an advocate for advancing first-generation student success here at the College. As an alum of Ramapo myself, I aim to ensure that all first-generation students feel heard, understood, and celebrated throughout their experiences as Roadrunners.”

Jack NesmithJack Nesmith
Coordinator Of Student Activities
Center For Student Involvement

“As a proud First-Generation Alumnus of Ramapo from Jersey City allowed me to give back to a community which helped me learn and grow as a student affairs professional. Being a member of the First-Gen Action Team is a privilege to help current first-gen student leaders find their passion and leadership opportunities to successfully graduate. I want every first-gen student to feel they belong and make a difference as scholars, leaders, and Ramapo Roadrunners within this role while promoting the values of first-gen support within the Ramapo College community.”

Natalie Quiñones
Student Development Specialist/Coordinator of Instructional Support Services
Educational Opportunity Fund Program

“I am a proud Ramapo EOF Alumna who is not only the first-born in this country, but also the first in my family to graduate high school, college, and graduate school. As a student advocate, I will continue to illuminate a path for your success and will always encourage you to share your story with our campus community. We are first-generation, too, and are here to empower you!”

MaryCatherine Switala
Professional Services Specialist
Center for Student Success