Student Voices: Perspectives from First Generation Students on their Experiences in Lehigh's Classrooms

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photo of student panalists for experiences of first generation students

What’s it like to be a first generation student at Lehigh? On Thursday, October 11, four first-generation students shared their experiences in the CITL-sponsored Student Voices: Perspectives from First Generation Students on their Experiences in Lehigh's Classrooms. Topics covered ranged from advisor and professor relationships, textbook costs, family concerns, and Lehigh’s support infrastructure for firstgens.

Some common themes in the first-year experience:

  • Feeling intimidated (at first). Students learned that asking questions and asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
  • Relationships. Whether working with an advisor or meeting with a faculty member, students appreciate when staff take an interest in their personal story and background.
  • Assumptions. Don’t assume all students have ready access to textbooks (especially at the start of the semester) or state-of-the-art laptops.

Moderator Dr. George White, Managing Director, Student Access and Success, provided some context for the audience. He described the concept of intersectionality -- the complex and cumulative way that different human traits combine, overlap, and intersect in the human experience, such that no one trait in isolation “explains” a person. The takeaway for faculty and staff working with students is to avoid making assumptions based on one aspect of a student’s background. For example, not all first generation students face financial challenges, though about 80% of firstgens come from lower income families.

Students praised Lehigh programs and initiatives, such as the Lehigh University Student Scholars Institute (LUSSI), which helped prepare them for the college experience. Thanks to the student panelists and moderators White and Dr. Gregory Reihman, Associate Vice Provost and Director, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

This session was second in our three-part series: Conversations on the Diversity of Student Experience in Lehigh's Classrooms. Join us on Thursday, November 8 for Perspectives on the Experiences of Students with Disabilities in Lehigh's Classrooms. Register here.

Photo (l-r): Courteney Parry, Albin Rosado, Kiana Nieves, Steven Escobar Mendez