For college students, balancing classes, work, family, and more, all while keeping mental health in check, is not an easy task.
For students who are the first in their families to attend college, their journey can be even more challenging when parents and guardians are not familiar with the college enrollment process and the expectations of college students.
CPP supports its first-gen community through the I Am First Campaign, led by the Office of Student Success, Equity, and Innovation. The goals of “I Am First” are to create a visibility campaign for those who identify as first-gen and to provide those students with faculty/staff mentorships.
Part of the campaign included a video featuring members of CPP community sharing their struggles and experiences with being a first-gen student, produced by MediaVision and the Department of Strategic Communications.
Earlier this year, CPP’s video won a bronze in the educational institutional non-broadcast category of The Telly Awards, which receives over 12,000 entries from across the United States and five continents. Entries are reviewed by its judging council, consisting of over 200 leading experts in the advertising, production, and television industries.
Trevor Henderson, director of MediaVision, lauded the students who shared their stories.
“I feel proud to work on a campaign with a noble goal and proud to work with a team of such creative talent,” said Henderson. “I’m deeply touched by the first-generation students who were interviewed for the video. They were so brave in sharing their deeply personal stories. They all shared their stories with the goal of helping first-generation students who struggled just like them.”
At Cal Poly Pomona, approximately 57 percent of students, as well as multiple staff and faculty members, are first-generation. The hope with the campaign is that these students feel supported and seen, said Amon Rappaport, senior associate vice president and chief communications officer. “The I Am First campaign was designed to build pride and a sense of belonging among the first-generation Bronco community,” said Rappaport. “The campaign was co-created with first-generation students, who developed the strategy and main message: to surface and challenge the imposter voice so many often hear in their head.”
Zane Landin (‘22, communication) and Eddie Rangel (‘22, visual communication design) helped design the campaign and Dora Lee, director of Academic Support and Learning Services oversaw it.
“I Am First is important because it gives first gen students the encouragement and support system that may or may not be present in their lives,” said Rangel. “As a first-gen student myself, I struggled with navigating higher education and becoming accustomed to a college environment. Thankfully, I sought and found help from professors, department chairs, and fellow students.”
Landin adds that it is important to showcase the voices of successful first-gen students.
“This can increase their sense of belonging, that they are not the only one navigating the university system alone,” said Landin. “It creates a community, and that community makes you feel included and empowered.”
Karina Mendez (‘23, communication) was a coordinator for the campaign while she was a student. She helped gather research on the first-generation student body in order to better organize future campaigns. Mendez also attended meetings with the heads of different departments on campus to spread awareness about the campaign and present first-generation research findings at Strategic Communication’s PR Round Table.
Mendez has a personal connection to the campaign, as she’s a first-gen student as well.
“I’m also a transfer student from a community college and started my educational journey at CPP a bit older than the average student,” said Mendez. “Not to mention, I have two children. It was great to learn that CPP is an active advocate in propelling forward their first gen student body. Working on the campaign opened my perspective in depth to the struggles that my fellow first-gen students and I face and how university involvement and advocacy play a great role in student success.”