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### Discovering Mentors, Resources, and Niches: How First-Generation Students Thrive at Rochester

Approximately 20 percent of the undergraduate student population in Rochester are trailblazers as the first in their families to pursue higher education.


Reflecting on his family’s sacrifices amidst the bustling commencement ceremony last May, Justin Pimentel ’23, a Bronx native, shared his poignant journey. His educational feat of earning dual degrees in computer science and history from a private university marked a significant milestone, evoking profound emotions among his family members. Similarly, Raven Osborn ’23 (PhD), the distinguished graduate student speaker, expressed overwhelming gratitude as she recounted the pride of her family witnessing her remarkable accomplishments and the transformative impact of her educational pursuit.

Defining First-Generation Students

The classification of first-generation students varies among institutions, with the University of Rochester aligning its definition with widely recognized standards. According to Robert Alexander, the vice provost and University dean of enrollment management, a first-generation student at Rochester is one whose parents did not attain a bachelor’s degree from any educational institution worldwide. This criterion underscores the diverse composition of the student body, with approximately 56 percent of undergraduates during the 2015–16 academic year identified as first-generation students.

Challenges and Triumphs of First-Generation Students

Navigating the intricate college application process can be daunting, particularly for individuals without familial guidance. Justin Pimentel highlighted the invaluable support he received from a high school program, aiding him in successfully navigating the complexities of college applications. Similarly, Janae Gaddy ’24E, a double bass performance major at the Eastman School of Music, reflected on the additional challenges faced by music school applicants due to the rigorous audition requirements.

Academic Pursuits and Beyond

Despite statistical disparities in enrolling in advanced programs, first-generation graduates like Raven Osborn have defied the odds. Osborn’s resilient journey from academic setbacks to earning a doctorate in translational biomedical services exemplifies the unwavering determination of first-generation scholars. Her impactful contributions to research programs and student initiatives underscore the transformative power of education in shaping successful career trajectories.

Support Systems and Mentorship

Acknowledging the pivotal role of mentors and support networks, first-generation students like Justin Pimentel and Janae Gaddy emphasized the profound impact of dedicated advisors in fostering academic success. The Kearns Center and First-Generation Network at Rochester provide essential resources, mentorship opportunities, and community-building platforms to empower and uplift first-generation students throughout their educational journeys.

Empowering First-Generation Voices

The University’s commitment to inclusivity and support for first-generation students is further exemplified through initiatives like the First-Generation Network and the establishment of comprehensive support services. The concerted efforts to enhance academic advising, mentorship programs, and community engagement reflect a steadfast commitment to fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment among first-generation students across the University’s campuses.

Investing in Future Generations

Robert Alexander emphasized the transformative impact of education in mitigating imposter syndrome and financial concerns among first-generation students. By underscoring the enduring value of a college education and the long-term socioeconomic benefits, Rochester remains dedicated to empowering first-generation scholars and cultivating a diverse, inclusive academic environment conducive to personal and professional growth.

Insights from First-Generation Students

Drawing insights from active members of the First-Generation Network, the narratives of Emmanuel Ahishakiye ’27, Earl Bumagat ’26, Jacky Chen ’26, Winifred Dorlean ’24, Alicia Markovich ’27, Jordan Martin ’25, Yessica Yireh Arvizu Martinez ’24, and Lexxi Reiter ’25 reflect a tapestry of resilience, determination, and community support that define the first-generation student experience at Rochester. Their diverse academic pursuits and personal reflections underscore the transformative power of education and mentorship in shaping successful academic trajectories and empowering future generations of first-generation scholars.