Students who are the first in their families to go to college were well-represented at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa First-Generation Student Celebration on November 8. The event connected nearly 200 students with invaluable campus resources and contacts, and also treated them to free boba, tote bags and giveaways.
The event also provided an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to share their experiences and their journey as first-generation students to inspire others in the community.
Being a positive role model
Kikilia Lani is a first-generation student of Kanaka ʻOīwi, Boricua, Ilocano and Chinese descent. She graduated and earned degrees from Honolulu Community College (AS in early childhood education and teaching) and at UH Mānoa (BA and ME). She is currently a PhD student in education and an instructional and support specialist with the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. She said poverty and kuleana is what led her to college.
“I didnʻt want to be poor anymore, and I recognized education as a means to socioeconomic mobility,” Lani said. “I felt that excelling in school was one way I could show appreciation to my mom and honor the struggles she went through while raising me, while serving as a positive role model for my younger siblings.”
While it can feel lonely and difficult at times, Lani said she feels privileged to be a first-generation student. “I recognize that each accomplishment contributes to the realization of the dreams of those who came before me. Knowing that those who come after me can focus less on the struggle and more on their dreams…gives me pride and makes me want to keep going…”
She reminds other first-generation students to not be afraid to ask for help, which can lead to meaningful connections, new insights and exciting experiences.
Pathway for better opportunities
Theresa Crichfield is UH Mānoa’s associate vice provost for student success and dean of students. For her, college was the pathway for opportunities to better herself and her family.
“My grandparents fled a dictatorship in Cuba and came to the USA for the American Dream. I can tell you, our family was fortunate enough to make it here,” she shared. “I was able to blaze my own trail with the support of my family and made my grandparents and parents proud that I was able to be college-educated and attain more than they did.”
In her role overseeing various student services, she emphasizes that the campus is packed with resources and people who want to support first-generation students on their journey to graduation. “Building a network of friends and mentors is crucial!” she said.
Micah Mizukami is the associate director for the Center for Oral History and a first-generation Japanese and Okinawan student. He earned his MA in linguistics and is currently pursuing his PhD in second language studies at UH Mānoa. He earned his BA in Japanese Studies at Willamette University in Oregon.
Growing up in the small town of ʻEleʻele, Kauaʻi led him to venture somewhere new and different for his undergraduate college experience. “I always loved traveling and seeing new places and meeting new people, and I wanted the same for my college experience,” said Mizukami.
His advice for other first-generation students? He said meeting regularly with college advisors and finding first-generation groups on campus will help them find a sense of community with other students from similar backgrounds. “These are things I wish I knew more about when I was an undergrad!”