UTEP’s SELC celebrates First-Gen week


Alberto Silva Fernandez

UTEP celebrates First-Gen week with activities highlighting first generation students and their stories.

Eduardo Flores, Contributor

For some students, coming to college every day and facing daily challenges is a journey that they have expected, but for others, they are making history within their families.  

Tears and laughter surged as students, faculty, and staff joined UTEP’s Student Engagement & Leadership Center (SELC) during a celebration to show their pride for being part of first-generation college students.  

First-Gen week is a celebration that institutions across the nation observe each year from Nov. 8 to Nov.11 for students who are the first in their families to attend college. 

SELC organized a special lunch that featured the attendance of panelists and special guests who shared their stories of success in support of first-generation students on the third floor of the Union Building East, Nov. 8.  

The panelists invited included Archie L. Holmes Jr., Ph.D., executive vice chancellor of academic affairs for the UT System. Andrea Cortinas, vice president and UTEP chief of staff, Marc Cox, Ph.D., chair of UTEP’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Department and Karol Brito, senior biological sciences major at UTEP.   

“I would advise first-gen students to surround themselves with people who are ambitious as they are. Who are just motivated, maybe not by the same reasons, but nevertheless motivated to get their education career done,” said Brito.   

UTEP President Heather Wilson was also present during the ceremony. She spoke about the significance of celebrating the determination of students, faculty, and staff who are or were the first in their families to earn a four-year degree.  

 “I was the first in my family to graduate from college, so I recognize the importance of developing the talent of First-Gen students,” Wilson said. “At UTEP, 51% of graduating seniors in 2020-21 reported that they were FirstGen. We join the nation today in celebrating them.”   

Students in attendance received exclusive swag, T-shirts, and pens. They also were able to take pictures of themselves and their friends to capture the moment while signing a thank you card and received the opportunity to meet other first-gen students to speak about their aspirations.  

“I am proud because it is something that not everyone usually does, and I know all of the efforts we are putting in will help us in the future to achieve our goals,” said Manuel Morga, a UTEP mechanical engineering student.  

Saul Fontes, a 21-year-old Chicano studies major at UTEP, shared a similar sentiment.  

“It can be intimidating being in spaces and doing things no one in your family has done before because you do not have someone explain the process,” Fontes said. “I am very proud of being first-gen, and it has become a source of motivation whenever I’m struggling with something that’s school school-related.”   

First-Gen students, faculty, staff and alumni were also invited to UTEP’s Men first home basketball game against New Mexico at the Don Haskins Center, Nov. 9.   

Author of “A Dream Called Home,” Reyna Grande, was also a keynote speaker as part of First-Gen week in collaboration with the Entering Student Experience Speaker Series on the third floor of Union Building East, Nov. 10. 

Lastly, on Nov. 11, a virtual parent panel hosted in Spanish was organized to hear from parents of first-gen students on how they support their students in navigating college life.   

Graduating seniors can now purchase their first-gen cord to wear at the commencement ceremony at the UTEP Bookstore for $16 each.    

Those wishing to post to social media about the celebration are encouraged to use #CelebrateFirstGen. For additional information regarding UTEP First Generation students visit https:/www.utep.edu/student-affairs/first-generation/events/index.html 

Eduardo A. Flores is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected].