Students From the First-Generation Student Alliance

First generation students are pioneers, now they are leading in a new way.

Furman welcomes new first-generation students every year. Jordan Zahora

This year, Furman welcomed 65 new first-generation students (students whose parent or guardian did not complete a four-year degree), making the campus total of first-generation students nearly 400. Before this year, however, no on-campus organization represented first-generation students. Today, the new First-Generation Student Alliance (FGSA) strives to do just that.  

Prior to FGSA’s creation, Furman had joined the First Scholars Network, which "opens up opportunities for data-sharing, programmatic collaboration and research initiatives,” according to a statement from assistant VP for student development Neil Jamerson. During the spring 2020 semester, a small group of first-generation students took the next step and founded FGSA in a peer-led initiative. Since then, the group has devised a constitution, created and assigned leadership role and has become an officially recognized organization by the Student Government Association (SGA).  

With a mission to help other first-gen students find community, offer mentorship to incoming classes, and share Furman’s resources and opportunities, FGSA members commit themselves to improving the first-gen experience. Several first-gen students spoke about FGSA's mission, which comes with both excitement and challenges. Junior Duval McCoy shared that “being a first-gen means I am a trailblazer and striving to change the narrative for future generations.” McCoy and other FGSA members expressed their thankfulness to be a part of FGSA, because it connects them with other first-gens. Junior Krista Just echoed McCoy, adding that FGSA allows first-gens to work together to represent a group of “pioneers.”  

Junior Helena Aarts explained that FGSA has helped build her confidence, adding that being a first-gen “gives her the opportunity to accomplish things nobody in her family ever has done.” Just agreed with Aarts, adding that her parents were told college was not a priority, so she is “glad they pushed her to improve her life in a way they weren’t told to.”  

Junior Meghan Salm said that FGSA has made her proud to be a first-gen student, because it means that she is taking steps towards building the best possible future for herself. Being a first-gen requires independence, and Salm noted that FGSA has helped her feel “incredibly empowered” by her ability to navigate college on her own. Salm shared that she is excited to now have a community to support her, an important part of FGSA’s mission.

The 2020-2021 FGSA officers said that they are excited to “get this organization off the ground.” Tia Ray (Senior, President), Emily Miller (Junior, Vice President), Oscar Guillen (Junior, Treasurer), and Jordan Zahora (Sophomore, Secretary) are all looking forward to furthering FGSA’s mission and positively impacting the first-gen community. Miller added, “Being a first-gen student means making my family proud, as it debunks stereotypes and poor expectations.”  

First-gens continue to break glass ceilings and defy all doubts, said Miller, who also noted that FGSA is motivated to defy the odds that stand in the way of first-gens. Miller concluded, “Being a first gen student is one of my biggest sources of pride” and she hopes that through her work and collaboration with FGSA, she can show everyone why.

Be sure to follow the FGSA Instagram to support and hear about your fellow Furman first-gens: @furmanfgsa

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