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We’re Number One: RCNJ Celebrates First-Gen Students

Ramapo Holds First-Generation Proclamation and Celebration

November 9, 2023

Ramapo College recognizes being first isn’t easy. Being first means carving out a path that did not exist. It means having the courage to face the unknown and the resilience to keep going while learning along the way. First-generation students know this all too well. They are individuals who are also pioneers in their families as they made the bold decision to pursue a college education.

The challenges are seemingly endless: from the intricacies of the application process to the triumphant moment of graduation, all without the lived experiences of family members to assist along the way. Embarking on the college journey can seem overwhelming, yet for every first-generation student, doing so is not only about earning a degree. Being first-gen is also about rewriting the narrative of their lives, and the sacrifices in order to do so.

Proud first-gen Roadrunners

To honor firstgeneration college students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Ramapo held FirstGeneration College Celebration Day on November 8 as well as to recognize the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. November is First-Generation College Celebration Month at Ramapo College. At the proclamation, President Cindy Jebb honored the contributions of Ramapo’s first-generation community. Uma Mahalingam, assistant director of the First-Generation Student Center, shared her admiration and praise for the accomplishments of first-gen students: “To our first-gen Roadrunners…I recognize the strength, resilience, and perseverance you bring to our community. The conversations that we have and the stories that you share continue to inspire me and remind me of why we need students like you in our community.”

During the event, first-generation students like Keith Hurst ’24 shared testimonies of their lived experiences as first-generation students. Hurst, a resident of Camden, NJ, figured college seemed unlikely. “Going to college was hard for me to fathom because not many people in Camden went to college and actually succeeded,” he shared. It was not until his junior and senior years, after repeated conversations with his principal throughout high school, when Hurst decided he was going to go to college, hanging onto the words his principal shared: “The amount of success you will achieve determines the amount of work you put in.”

Keith Hurst ’24 shared his first-gen experience at the celebration

One of the challenges Hurst faced was that he could not talk about the college admissions process at home because no one in his family went to college. Hurst applied to 20 schools and was offered admission by 18 of them. He chose Ramapo College without too much information to go on, only knowing the college consistently ranks as having the #1 residence halls in New Jersey, which was important since he would be living on campus more than two hours away from home. Upon arriving in August 2020, Hurst realized community was different at Ramapo. It was a big adjustment, and one he could not have prepared for as a first-gen student. “The biggest was imposter syndrome which stemmed from my hometown of Camden, making me feel like I didn’t belong here. The people and environment are a lot nicer than what I am used to, so it was a true culture shock for me,” he said. The challenges Hurst faced were not easy, but with the support of people like EOF Coordinator Natalie Quinones, he learned to overcome adversity and found success through his resiliency. “I would not trade this experience for the world.”

Students, faculty and staff gather for EOF Coordinator Natalie Quinones’ selfie

This year, Ramapo welcomed its largest first-generation student class in its history, with 47% of the Class of 2027 identifying as first-gen college students. This is a 7% increase from 2022. Ramapo defines a first-generation student as an undergraduate student enrolled who will be the first person in their family to graduate and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Efforts to celebrate and support first-generation students at Ramapo are not relegated only to November. Ramapo proudly opened the First-Generation Student Center in Fall 2022 to serve the increasing needs and population of all first-generation students and those who will become Roadrunners in future years. The Center provides intentional support and resources such as a summer bridge program, which will help students transition from high school to college. Another way in which first-gen students are celebrated at Ramapo is inducting members into the Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha) first-generation honor society as part of the Zeta Nu chapter at Ramapo College. The first cohort of members was inducted in Spring 2023.

Photos courtesy of Kimberly Ventresca, student photographer