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First-generation Penn students attended an Ivy League Conference at Brown this past weekend.

Credit: Courtesy Chris Sanoguel

The first-ever first-generation college students conference was held at Brown University this past weekend.

“1vyG” had 250 first-generation students in attendance, with all eight Ivy League schools represented, including 14 Penn students and three administrators. The conference will be held at a different Ivy each year. College senior and former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Yessenia Gutierrez and College junior Sam Trinh were co-ambassadors for Penn at the event. 

Gutierrez, who is the outgoing political chair of the United Minorities Council, had been working on establishing resources for first-generation students when she heard of the conference from a friend and decided to apply.

Themes of the conference included identity, pride, agency and action.

The students emphasized the importance of learning from other students’ experiences at their respective schools and bringing more awareness to the issues that first-generation students face, especially at Ivy League universities.

“My parents don’t understand what international relations is,” College freshman Jeffrey Arango said.

“You don’t see many first-generation students," Arango added. "You don’t know who is a first-generation student or not." He explained that having parents who did not go to college means there is no precedent to follow or parental guidance through application processes for graduate schools. Arango's motivation to attend the conference was driven by the desire to find a community of students who understand this experience. "I wanted to meet other people who came from similar backgrounds. I hear a lot of people always ask ‘Oh, where did your parents go?’ and I’m sitting over there like, ‘Well, my parents didn’t go anywhere,'” he said.

Ana McCullough, co-founder of QuestBridge, a non-profit that “links high-achieving low-income students with educational and scholarship opportunities at leading U.S. colleges and universities,” gave the opening keynote. Eric Waldo, executive director of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, a program to encourage students to complete education past high school, gave the conference’s closing keynote.

“When Ana McCullough spoke, she really focused on the positive aspects of being a first-generation students, the diversity we bring to the table, our different backgrounds bring different perspective to certain problems," Arango said.

The students plan to continue promoting awareness of the unique issues first-generation students face at Penn. “There is no visible community for first-generation students,” Gutierrez said. “This is the first step in a longer process.”

“We have resources, but the resources for first-generation students aren’t as strong as they could be,” Trinh said. “There are a lot of overlapping circles, but they’re separated from each other.” 

The administrators who attended the event from Penn were Director of Penn College Achievement Program Pamela Edwards, Associate Director of the Penn KIPP Partnership Jacqueline Amparo and the Vice Provost for University Life, Valarie Ena Swain-Cade McCollum. 

“We can tell that their interested in continuing the conversation, all of the delegates look forward to continuing that,” Gutierrez said.

“In one sense you’re here at Penn, you’re at one of the most privileged institutions, but then when you go back home, you go back to one of the most impoverished parts of the nation," Arango said. "Instead of seeing yourself as someone divided between two worlds, see yourself as a bridge between two worlds and how you can help better your communities back home.”

“This is only the beginning,” Gutierrez added.

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