Published: February 20, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor
As a first-generation student, I found graduate school difficult to navigate, even at I’m at school. However, I found the SJSU iSchool First Generation Student Group and I received support during my first year.
Formed in 2017, the First Generation Student Group aims to help MLIS students network and make connections to help them succeed. I spoke with the group’s president, Laura Garand, and the group’s editor, Samantha Harteau, about the group, its mission and its objectives.
The following questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Who is the FGSG group aimed at? What does it mean to be first generation?
Samantha: Anybody! Being a first generation student means something different to everyone. One can identify as a first-generation student if they consider themselves the first in their immediate family, extended family, group of friends, or for many other reasons.
Laura: I am the first member of my entire extended family to pursue an undergraduate degree and now a master’s degree, but others are the first on the mother’s side of the family, etc. We want to be inclusive of anyone who hasn’t had the support that can come with parents who have attended college and can answer questions about their experience.
What kind of barriers do first-generation students face, especially in a master’s program like MLIS?
Samantha: Barriers can start with not understanding the importance of school or not receiving the necessary support. Many first-generation students feel isolated in their families and/or groups of friends because they are often the only ones in the group who pursue higher education and have a passion for school. A common response for first-generation students entering a master’s degree program is disbelief that they would like to continue in college. “Didn’t you ever go to college?” Why do you need to go back?
Feeling lost on how and where to start in academia and beyond is also a huge hurdle. Imposter syndrome is also one of the biggest obstacles for first-generation students. Constant comparisons with others, feeling like you don’t measure up, the stress of having to be perfect, and seeking external validation are all signs of impostor syndrome.
Laura: FGSG students often have to figure out so much on their own – we call this “the hidden curriculum” because early generations often have to navigate an entirely new experience without being able to rely on parents or older members of the family. family to be able to give them advice. Early generations may face everyday hurdles that seem small, like being able to talk to your parents about the classes you’re taking or getting their input on which extracurricular activities are best suited to your career goals. Other obstacles can be much more widespread and obvious, such as having to go against your family’s wishes by pursuing an education, which can be incredibly isolating, especially when you’re also in a new environment.
In a program like iSchool, not only do the first people have a new academic experience, but for those of us enrolled in the distance program, it can be even more isolated and even more difficult to seek out the resources that may be needed, because we often don’t know where to start, and not being on campus makes it harder to “wander around” and find out where certain things are or meet peers who may know some of the answers. This is where we hope to be of benefit to the first generation – we may not have the answer immediately, but we will certainly do our best to find the answers to your questions or direct you to someone who can. !
What type of programming does the FGSG group offer its members?
Laura: We hold a coffee and discussion meeting once a month, with a spare month of each term without a general assembly, where we ask first-generation teachers about their experiences! We’re currently working on setting up some type of channel for our members to communicate informally between meetings, and we’ll keep you posted on progress on that!
Samantha: Currently at our Coffee and Chat events we are discussing a new chapter of
Rachel Gable’s Hidden Agenda.
How did you benefit from the FGSG group? Were there any specific experiences that impacted your increased involvement in the band?
Laura: In fact, I only heard about the group when I heard about vacancies in the management team. I liked the idea of the group and, being in a distance program, I really wanted the chance to engage with my peers on a more than academic level, so I applied for the position of secretary. After about a month, the president position was still open, and I was really excited about being part of the team and meeting new people, so with the support of the rest of the group, I took the position of president!
Samantha: Having a community to confide in when I’m stuck or want to share an accomplishment is wonderful. There have been times when I have been frustrated in a class and feel bad for not understanding the materials. I have already spoken with the first generation group if they had similar experiences or if they could help me. It’s nice to be able to ask a community struggling with similar difficulties if I’m the only one feeling lost in a certain topic (almost always I’m not) and how others have navigated and overcome the issue.
Samantha, I read the FGSG blog and saw many famous first generation students including Michelle Obama and SJSU iSchool Principal Dr. Anthony Chow. Do you find it comforting to know that such successful and accomplished people are part of the first generation?
Samantha: Absolutely. It’s wonderful to hear about so many inspiring people who have come from all walks of life and the hardships that have come with them. I read Michelle Obama’s memoir and loved connecting with her stories of navigating college and beyond. Having these reminders that I am not alone when I feel lost in college and in my profession is heartwarming.
Laura, what has been your experience as president?
Laura: I liked being president. The time commitment is fair and I really like our team! It was a great experience collaborating with the team and Dr. Bernier and getting to know some of the faces of other student groups. It was also a good experience to learn how to work collaboratively and delegate tasks in a leadership position – and being able to use this experience for my e-portfolio is also a bonus!
While reviewing the blog, I saw a chair post a few semesters ago. If a member of the FGSG group had an interest, would the program be brought back?
Laura: Yes absolutely! We previously had understudy positions for all leadership team roles, to help with the transition process when a member of the leadership team graduates or leaves. We would gladly accept a stunt double in one of our positions if the interest was there, we are currently focusing our energy in other locations and pausing publicity for the stunt double program for a while.
What advice do you have for other iSchool First-Gen students?
Samantha: Find a community or group of people who can support you. It’s so important to have support when you’re struggling as a first generation student. Accepting and coping with these hardships is hard, but knowing that you have the support of people who love and care about you and who actively want to see you succeed is a big motivator to keep going. ‘Before. I know I need to step back and remember my motivating supporters (my furry friends included) when I feel stuck and alone.
Laura: Many of us seem to feel like we’re not good enough or don’t belong here… that’s NOT TRUE! We’ve all worked our way here, like everyone else, and we deserve our places! Also, don’t be afraid to ask your peers for advice, and don’t hesitate to share your experiences with others who may have questions.
Samantha is continuing her studies in MLIS and plans to graduate in May 2023. Laura is continuing her studies in MLIS and plans to graduate in May 2024.