Central Penn College First Generation College Students Receive Advice and Support

Being the first in your family to go to college can be a lonely and scary road. Your family may be supportive but unable to understand the stresses and culture you are facing. They may misinterpret your newfound knowledge as an attempt to be “better than them.”

That’s why Central Penn College is an ideal starting point for first-generation students. Many of Central Penn’s most caring leaders are also the first in their family to attend college, including our President, Dr. Linda Fedrizzi-Williams, and Steve Hassinger, Director of Career Services.   

Navigating the challenges unique to first-generation college students was at the heart of a panel discussion held on Wednesday in the Conference Center.

Moderated by Hassinger, the audience heard from five panelists who are all first-generation college students. They each shared their experiences and feelings honestly, and are eager to help others like them. They included Christopher Adams, a veteran of the US Army, alum and lecturer in Medical Assisting; Gabby Perez, a current student, Resident Assistant, and active club member majoring in Criminal Justice; Lionel Coates, a musician and chef now in his second term here; Robert Donley, a lawyer and the Program Director for Legal Studies; and Yvette Gonzalez, also an alum and Alumni Council member who now works in Human Resources for Penn State Health. 

Donley said he found both college and his first law firm to be “culture shock.”  His family members were unable to prepare him for what was to come because they had never experienced it themselves. He learned to thrive by turning to the professionals in the field at his college, a place he came to love. He urged students to ask for help. “Trust me. You are not bothering us!”

Tips for de-stressing included finding hobbies and friends, and joining many clubs with people from different backgrounds, without overburdening your schedule. 

“You’re your own best friend,” Perez reminded everyone. She encouraged students to also care for their own mental health.  

Coates admitted it’s difficult, but “Never be too proud to ask for help.”

Panelists agreed that your college education doesn’t make you “better than anyone.” 

One panelist said he had to reassure his family that he was not trying to come off as “cocky” or “uppity,” as some reacted to him when he came home for Thanksgiving. 

Remember your audience when talking about college and the information you have learned, Gonzalez said. 

Donley underscored the pressure to go to college in his family, as the only one of three siblings who did.  But he said, “Don’t do this for your family. Do it for yourself.”

Coates, as the second oldest out of seven children, went to college at 27, reassured by the many students he met at Philadelphia County Community College who were older than he was.  

When people may doubt or misunderstand you, “Don’t let anyone dim your light,” Gonzalez encouraged.

Donley reminded everyone that, “You are a professional-in-training. Think of yourself that way.” He urged students to avail themselves of all the resources here and the professors who were working practitioners. Learn what it will be like to be in the profession you are studying, he urged.  He also said to study hard and protect your reputation because digital footprints endure long after high school and college. 

Coates, an aspiring entrepreneur, also stressed self-accountability. “Don’t blame others for not getting where you want to be.”

Central Penn extends special thanks to Penn State Health and Ritter Insurance, who provided the lunch and offered gift cards as prizes to students who attended.

PSECU and HSE Staffing Agency also attended with free gifts, information and staff to greet students and answer questions.

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