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Central Focus: First Generation Students

World Languages faculty member Alejandra Rengifo
Central Michigan University
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Central Michigan University
World Languages faculty member Alejandra Rengifo

Dr. Alejandra Rengifo, Professor of Spanish, has been working with First Gen students. Through a national program at Stanford University, she is expanding her efforts.

  Below is a transcript of our conversation with Dr. Alejandra Rengifo  

David Nicholas:

I'm David Nicholas and this is Central Focus, a weekly look at research activity and innovative work from Central Michigan University students and faculty. A growing number of young people are starting college as what is called first generation, the first in their family to go to college. How do they get through the steps to be admitted? What do they do to navigate the new life once they get there? Dr. Alejandra Rengifo, Professor of Spanish in CMU's Department of History, World Languages and Cultures, has been working with First Gen students at CMU. And now she has been selected as part of a national program through Stanford University, to expand her efforts. She joined me via Zoom, to tell me more…

Alejandra Rengifo:

The short definition is like if your parents didn't go to college or don't have a college degree, you are a first generation. At CMU, we have it at like, you know, first in your family to go to college or for some of your family to graduate from college, or that even your parents have not go to college. So, at CMU, we just kind of like, have the varied terminology, just use it for that. You asked me, David, who are more just prone to be First Gen, that is just commonly the (under) underserved groups you know. So, we're talking here about Latino. We're talking here about African American, you know, by pock people pretty much. But also, we have white people that have not gone to college. Their parents, for example. So, here at CMU we have 20% of our students (who) are first generation. Those that number is for those self-identified as first generation.

DN:

Well, it brings us to the fact that now you have been named as one of two educators through this Stanford University program, the Innovation Fellows Program and it will be officially launched in March of 2025. And your specific project fostering (the) an environment of success for first generation students. What are your goals for taking your experiences working with these students and now participating in this program, where do you see it going from here on forward?

AR:

And this program, what it is (is) just a two-year program. The first year we are training in how we're going to be able to get our project off the ground and who our stakeholders are, how do we want this to be successful? The second year is just like all the way to. April, when you are and we go and meet all of us from around the world that have done the program and we just like, you know, show our results. First of all, the Central Bridge is our RSO. That is for First Gen students and allies and what we are going to do, and this is part of my UIF, is one of the first things we want to do is just visibility on campus. We want to be helping the task force also with the different activities that Frist Gen students and allies can be engaged in on campus, where we can have faculty and staff and students. How can you just, like, get more scholarships? You know, this is the way you can do and all that or how can you just, you know, be a member, (a member) of a different kind of a community here on CMU. If we could have advisors that are First Gen be able to advise First Gen students. We come from the same world you know? So, what is my dream with this? We would love to have a First Gen Center at CMU. You know, getting to have our First Gen students be more comfortable at CMU, be more visible. And be a part of our community. You know that they feel good that they came to CMU.

DN:

Well, the takeaway then is making the university as much a shining example of the inclusion and the support that these and (and) other students may be able to receive along the way. Congratulations on the recognition you have received for the work thus far and (and) maybe one day we'll have our conversation when the First Gen Center is up and running at CMU. Professor Rengifo, thank you so much for sharing the story with us. Best of luck moving forward and thank you for your time.

AR:

Thank you, Dave. Thank you very much. Thank you for the support. I think that we at CMU, we are here to do great things for our students. And thank you again for the invitation. Thank you.

David Nicholas is WCMU's local host of All Things Considered.
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