STUDENTS: A new support group for first-generation students

As a high school senior, Kinsie Jaramillo noticed her peers receiving college acceptance letters and eagerly waited to hear from the University of Utah. But despite her high grades and varied extracurricular activities, she heard nothing from the U.

Until she got a phone call from someone on a scholarship committee.

“They said that they wanted to consider me for a scholarship, but they had never received my college application,” she said. “It turns out, I had applied for a bunch of scholarships and signed up to receive admissions emails, but I hadn’t actually applied to the school.”

As a first-generation college student, Jaramillo had to face the intimidating application process mostly on her own.

“I didn’t really have the support that most people had,” Jaramillo said. “I couldn’t just ask my parents, because they didn’t know either.”

Jaramillo went on to receive two undergraduate degree from the U and an MBA from Westminster College, and she’s currently in her second year of law school at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. But she still remembers the unique struggles she faced as a first-generation student.

That’s why, when the First-Generation Law Students (FGLS) organization was created earlier this year, Jaramillo jumped at the chance to get involved. By becoming president of the new organization, she could forge connections with other students with similar experiences.

“I wanted to help create a network of people in the same situation, so we can be that safety net for each other when we have questions or concerns,” she said.

A first-generation student is typically a student whose parents and grandparents didn’t complete a four-year degree. In the case of the FGLS organization, it can also include students who are the first in their families to go to law school.

“It’s intentionally broad,” said Leilani Marshall, the dean of student affairs at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. “The law school experience is, in a lot of ways, different and a lot more difficult than the undergrad experience.”

Marshall, a first-generation student herself, came up with the idea for the organization based on her own experience.

“At law school, the imposter syndrome is real,” she said. “It can feel like everyone knows what they’re doing, except for you.”

Alex Sanchez also felt similar pressure before attending law school.

“It’s really intimidating because you have these top law schools who are looking for smart and accomplished students, and you just aren’t sure if you fit that mold,” he said.

Sanchez, the vice president of the organization and a Salvadoran-American, also mentioned that having parents who are first-generation immigrants presents more challenges to first-generation students, including economic obstacles and a language barrier.

“For many first-generation college students, they are attempting to navigate between college and home life all on their own without seeking any support,” he said. “We want to provide that guidance and create a supportive and welcoming environment where it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to not know everything right off the bat.”

For more resources for first-generation students, visit https://studentsuccess.utah.edu/resources/student-support/. To join the First-Generation Law Students, search for the organization at https://leadership.utah.edu/find-an-org.php or email firstgenlawsjq@gmail.com.

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