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Student group Penn First held an all-Ivy conference over the past weekend that aimed to address issues facing first-generation students and students from low income backgrounds.

Credit: Courtesy of Jamie-Lee Josselyn

Last weekend, the student group Penn First returned to the conference that sparked its formation.

Members of Penn First united with more than 350 college students and administrators at the 1vyG conference last weekend, hoping to continue the conversation about first-generation and/or low-income identity on campus. 1vyG is the first and only conference to bring students and administrators from the Ivy League or elite institutions together to discuss and combat issues that first-generation and low-income college students face.

When several Penn students attended the debut conference at Brown University last year, they realized they wanted to form a visible community at Penn. About 12 percent of the of the Class of 2019 identifies as first-generation, according to the Admissions Office’s website.

“There is something about campus that scatters groups of first generation and/or low-income students,” College sophomore and Penn First co-founder Gloria Ellis said.

This year, the club brought 24 Penn students to Harvard University for the conference. Six administrators attended as well, including the Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Ena Swain-Cade McCoullum.

The conference ran from Feb. 19-21 and featured workshops, speakers and breakout sessions where students could share the different programs at their schools to help fellow first-generation and low-income students. College freshman and Penn First member Candy Alfaro said the group found new ideas that could be implemented at Penn, such as more funding for pre-orientation programs, New Student Orientation events for first-generation and low-income students and funding parent visits.

“I think the next step [for Penn First] is to continue the conversation and think about what are some of the initiatives we think would be most compatible at Penn and gain ground on them,” said Jamie-Lee Josselyn, conference attendee and associate director for recruitment at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing.

Having graduated from Penn in 2005 as a first-generation student, Josselyn supports the new strides Penn First has made and sees herself as a sort of adviser.

“[When I studied at Penn] it didn’t occur to me that [being first generation] was something I should talk about. I was so grateful to be here at Penn, so I think there were times I struggled and brushed it off,” Josselyn said. “I’m glad these students are able to be grateful and address the issues they are struggling with.”

College junior Selamawit Bekele has been active in the first-generation and low-income community as the liaison for QuestBridge Scholars Network at Penn and was excited to attend 1vyG this year. Bekele sees gaps in support that she said may have surfaced when elite schools were initially formed for students of other backgrounds.

Penn First hopes to increase awareness by hosting next year’s 1vyG conference at Penn. Currently, the organization is still in the application process.

“There is a large past problem that [the administration] hadn’t heard from us. They didn’t realize we wanted a community,” College junior Lauren Beard said. “In going to this conference and meeting all these students we realize no, we want to be heard, we wanted to be recognized [and] we want these issues to be part of [our] campus.”

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