Fatima Vasquez Molina, a daughter of Hispanic immigrants, is the first in her family to attend college. She was one of about 50 Catholic University students who gathered on Nov. 5, 2021, for a Take Flight luncheon celebrating University students who are the first ones in their families to pursue a college education.
“For any other student, college is most likely another chapter in their lives, but for my family and me, it wasn’t that. It was a really big dream to accomplish,” Vasquez Molina said.
She spoke at the luncheon about the challenges that many first-generation college students face and how the Take Flight program offered by the Center for Cultural Engagement has helped her make a smoother transition. She is a junior with a double major in theology and Hispanic studies.
“Take Flight is that initial frame for many of us as first-generation students to work toward our careers and our future,” Vasquez Molina noted.
More than 90 students are enrolled in the program. And others, like Tyrica Edmonds Miller, a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, share the same view.
“The biggest challenge is not graduating,” said Edmonds, who at first was not sure if she would stay or transfer to another college.
“Having the opportunity to create a community of like-minded individuals and people who experienced similar struggles helped me find my place on this campus,” Edmonds Miller added. Upon graduation, she plans to work as a traveling nurse.
The Center for Cultural Engagement launched the program three years ago to help increase the retention of first-generation college students. The program helps students accomplish their personal and academic goals by connecting them to helpful resources and a welcoming community of peers that share similar challenges.
Most rewarding is to see how students have incorporated themselves into the fabric of the University, said Javier W. Bustamante, director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Catholic University.
“There is a lot that they are doing, and it is very gratifying to see how they are getting involved on campus and really impacting our school,” Bustamante added.
The program helps meet the needs of the students according to their academic level by offering an introduction to campus resources and skills needed to succeed for freshmen, continued skill-building opportunities for sophomores, and career and internship advice for juniors and seniors. Opportunities to socialize and mentorships are also available.
Cindy Cintron, a junior who also shared her experiences at the luncheon, enjoys mentoring others as a way to give back to her college community.
“It is so awesome to have those proud mom moments with my mentees every time that they do something really amazing, or they accomplish one of their goals for the semester,” Cintron said.
As a daughter of Hispanic immigrants unfamiliar with the application process for college, the program also has helped address many of her needs. In addition to her studies, she is a member of several student organizations, including two honor societies.
“The journey is difficult, and there are some scary moments. But finding a community that will support you in feeling like you do belong, because we all belong where God placed us, is important,” Cintron remarked.