Campus and Community

First-Generation Students Learn College Success Tactics at Forum

First Generation College Forum Panel Members

Panel member Stephanie Islas (coordinator, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs) and Jose Vazquez (coordinator, Student Activities) listen as Katrina Borders, program director of Project STAR, responds to a student’s question at the First Generation College Success Forum Sept. 16.

Students had the opportunity to learn about college and career options from UHD alumni and others at the First Generation College Success Forum, held Sept. 16 in conjunction with Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week.

The forum focused on the unique challenges that first-generation college students face, such as the following:

  • Balancing a part- or full-time job with attending college and studying
  • Finding a job that pays well enough to support attending college
  • Procuring a job despite having no related experience
  • Finding a job or internship that aligns with career goals

The forum was sponsored by the Project STAR (Student Transition and Retention) program. Led by Katrina Borders, program director, Project STAR is a Title V grant-funded program that provides first-year students with opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed and return to UHD for a second year.

Panel members Stephanie Islas (coordinator, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs), Jose Vazquez (coordinator, Student Activities), Brittany Clark (UHD student and user support specialist, Information Technology) and Jesse Lopez (administrative assistant, Career Development Center) took questions from students.

Borders, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UHD and a master of education degree from the University of Houston, advised students to aim high. “You have so many resources here. You need to tap into what drives you and what motivates you. You just need to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Special guest Roberta Smith, training manager at Houston Methodist Hospital, inspired students with her message of hope and determination. Although not a UHD alumna, Smith was a first-generation student who had struggled to get her bachelor’s degree; she subsequently earned a master’s and Ph.D. She urged students, “Sacrifice now so you can enjoy later. Your hair and your nails can wait; that will be there when you are through.”

Education should be a lifelong pursuit, Smith said. “You should never stop learning. I see great things for you; I see great things in you.”

The STAR Program has partnered with a faculty/staff advisory committee to launch the First to Go Mentor Program in October. The purpose of the mentoring component is to allow first-generation students to be matched with a faculty or staff mentor. Mentors will interact with students to address questions and concerns regarding academic, career, financial and personal issues by providing feedback or referring them to appropriate resources.