According to Iowa State’s latest statistics, nearly one-fourth of the incoming freshman class of fall 2018 were first generation students. But what is it like to be one of these students on Iowa State’s campus?
Freshman in geology Branden Bettes was not even expected to go to college by his parents.
“My mom didn’t go to college, she didn’t even go to high school, technically," Bettes said. "But my dad tried a few classes in college and said, ‘no, this isn’t for me.’”
With no examples or expectations set ahead of him, Bettes moved 4,000 miles away from his hometown in Alaska and set off to Iowa State on his journey as the first in his family to attend college.
Bette’s journey to college was not an easy one, especially because his parents had no experience with college that could benefit him.
“I had to find ways to make being here cheaper, and my mom didn’t know how to help me because she didn’t go to college,” Bettes said.
After managing the application process himself, a variety of clubs and organizations at Iowa State helped Bettes become more integrated on campus.
“They had a lot of different things that I could go to to make new friends and make a family here," Bettes said. "I know Salt Company isn’t a part of Iowa State, but they helped a lot too. The crew that I got stuck with, they’re amazing and they’re honestly like brothers to me at this point.”
While Bettes is grateful for all the help he has received along the way at Iowa State, he says there is more the university itself could do to benefit first generation students.
“I think they’re tackling it decently, but there are a few areas that they could improve in," Bettes said. "There’s certain programs great for freshman students that just need to be more advertised."
Bettes found comfort and help in making connections on campus, which is the same advice he gives to other first generation students.
“One thing I think that is extraordinarily tough for first generation students is that your parents don’t know how to help, so it makes it two times more difficult," Bettes said. "So, I think it’s more important for first generation students to make connections and friends."
First generation student and senior in sociology Tiffany Contreras also found companionship though making connections on campus.
“I was very luckily involved with many programs as a first-year student […] I became a Multicultural Vision Program scholar and I was involved with the Academic Program of Excellence," Contreras said. "With these experiences, I got to know many other students who are similar and different from me and I had the opportunity to build mentorship with faculty and staff from these programs."
Although she is a first generation student, Contreras said she felt as if she was expected to go to college after being accepted into the Science Bound program in the seventh grade.
“Science Bound is an Iowa program for students of color to learn more in areas of STEM throughout middle school and high school up until graduation, and when you graduate you are offered a full-tuition scholarship to Iowa State University in a STEM major program,” Contreras said. “After I was offered that opportunity it was definitely an expectation to make it through the program until high school graduation and to make it to Iowa State University.”
Although Contreras had the encouragement to go to college as a first generation student, it did not make the task any easier for her.
“My main struggle was my mom not being able to understand where I am coming from when I struggled my first couple of years,” Contreras said. “I wanted to use the excuse that she doesn't know what it is like being a first generation college student at a four year institution, but then that just led to comparing me with other people and peers who did better than me and also had the same demographic experience.”
Even though Contreras struggled, she had her outlets on campus.
“I was able to navigate my first couple of years because of the mentors and relationships that I built and navigating a better experience for myself throughout the years,” Contreras said. “Many of us in these programs are first generation students and I know there are a variety of resources and it is definitely something I appreciate about Iowa State.”
While Contreras has met many other first generation students and people with experiences similar to hers through clubs and organizations at Iowa State, she has hopes Iowa State can improve upon giving first generation students a more widely known space on campus.
“I know there are departments that try to cater to first gen students, but even a central location like a student organization or even events a first generation panel experience would be great ways to get students to interact and meet people who may have similar experiences and possibly being a networking opportunity,” Contreras said.
Throughout her four-year-long experience as a first generation student at Iowa State, Contreras has developed an abundance of gratitude.
“I am grateful for being a first generation student,” Contreras said. "The experience is full of ups and downs but I am in my fourth year at Iowa State and I have definitely learned and grown a lot from it."