Iowa State students gathered for a presentation on what it means to be a first generation college student and how to network Wednesday for the “Networking for First Gen Students: An Important ‘Pizza’ the Puzzle” event.
About 25 students made up the audience for the event, which all students were welcome to attend for the presentation, discussion and free pizza.
The event was hosted by Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as part of the 2019 First Gen Week to recognize and celebrate first generation students.
Greg Ruckdaschel, career adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Career Services, and Samantha Hirschman, program assistant for the mechanical engineering department, led the presentation for the event.
“First and foremost, just like any of the First Gen [Week] events, is you are not the only one,” Ruckdaschel said. “You are in an environment, in an entity — Iowa State — that there are many, many just like you that identify as [a first generation student].”
Hirschman herself is a first generation student who came from a low socioeconomic status background. She said those were identities that weren’t really identified until she got to graduate school.
Hirschman began the presentation by discussing the definition of what a first generation student is. A first generation student can be defined in several different ways. Some definitions are based on if the student is the first one in their family to attend college, while others are based on if the student is the first to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
A few of the struggles first generation students may face were presented by Hirschman. One of those is the imposter syndrome, where the student feels as if they don’t belong in the college space and don’t fit in with the other students. A student experiencing the imposter syndrome may feel as if they are putting on an act and faking their way through it.
“First generation students are often part of the Latinx community as well,” Hirschman said. “There’s a lot of data stating that those two are correlated, but correlation doesn’t mean causation or that it’s automatically going to be one and the other.”
Along with the correlation of first generation students being of marginalized groups, some also have a low socioeconomic status and financial difficulties with the process of applying and attending college.
“I kind of explored this idea of two worlds,” Hirschman said. “So there’s kind of the world that you grow up in and what you’re coming from usually [...] but the language that you speak there is different from the language you experience at college. You’re kind of experiencing two separate cultures or worlds as a first generation student.”
While at college, the students are in an academic world, and when they go home they may have to use different words or phrases when communicating with their families and peers, as it is a different environment.
“Find another first gen,” Hirschman said. “Being able to have kind of like a partner and being able to talk about it and what that means. When I’m able to talk to another first gen they are able to understand it in a different way than somebody who wants to learn or has educated through reading; it’s just different being able to talk to someone who experiences it themselves.”
During the presentation, Ruckdaschel focused on the networking side of college and presented statistics about the importance of networking for students. 60-85% of job seekers said they find jobs through networking activities.
Networking can begin with creating lists about who the student knows, researching and then reaching out to learn about their roles and gaining their advice, according to Ruckdaschel. Students who identify as an introvert might experience difficulty with networking, as it can be intimidating to talk with others about professional and personal matters.
Preparation for networking can help ease the nerves of introverts. Tips Ruckdaschel offered to those in attendance included preparing questions to ask prior to speaking with potential employers, being an active listener and challenging yourself to get outside of your comfort zone.
Ruckdaschel also talked about creating a great elevator pitch when speaking to potential employers. An elevator pitch is the first statement a student gives to the potential employer.
In addition, Ruckdaschel discussed the importance of students having a profile on LinkedIn.com, presenting a statistic from a Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey that said 87% of job recruiters use LinkedIn when searching for ideal candidates.
Students can go to the career services in their respective college for more information on networking and being a first generation student.
Hirschman welcomed the students to reach out to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for anything first generation student related.
“I do think holistically, this event, this week, is very important,” Ruckdaschel said. “And it’s not just here at Iowa State but nationally it is First Gen Week [...]. Iowa State, this is their second annual First [Gen] Week, so relatively newer to this particular institution celebrating that particular student population [...]. I’m so happy to see it taking off and gaining traction.”
The full schedule of events for Iowa State’s First Gen Week can be found on the "Inside Iowa State for faculty and staff" website. A flyer for the week can also be viewed on Iowa State’s College of Design website.
“I think this is the start of — moving forward — a larger scale type of First Gen Week not only focused on maybe career development and preparation like this presentation was,” Ruckdaschel said. “But to help in that particular student population have that confidence and have that identity, and take pride in that identity.”