Proud To Be First: UB’s First-Generation Faculty, Staff and Students

In support of our first-generation population, UB has launched Proud To Be First, a collaborative, campuswide initiative that guides and celebrates first-generation students throughout their college journey. Proud To Be First is how students connect to community support and beneficial programs that emphasize our pride in students’ achievements.

Our exhibit in Capen Hall (first floor) showcases the faces and voices of students, faculty and staff who are the first in their family to go to college. Here are some of their experiences as a first-generation college student and why they are proud to be first. 

First-generation student Isaac Asante.

Isaac Asante

School of Public Health and Health Professions

My experience as a first-gen college student thus far has been good. Exposure to people, including students and faculty members here at UB, and to the city has helped shaped my college career. Being first generation alongside my siblings has given us the opportunity to re-write our family history and change the current generation and the generations after us.

First-generation faculty member Carole Emberton.

Carole Emberton

College of Arts and Sciences

Being a first-gen student was really hard. It seemed like everyone else knew something I didn’t. At my college, there were no resources to help first-gen students, so I just muddled through. I’m so happy UB is focused on first-gen students and helping them succeed!

First-generation student Ashley Godoy.

Ashley Godoy

School of Architecture and Planning

As a first-generation student, to continue on my education and work toward a degree is the way I honor my parents and thank them for all the sacrifices they made and all the hardships they’ve gone through for my three siblings and me. Despite being one of the first among my siblings to attend college, the lack of prior knowledge about the college experience pushed me to seek opportunities and resources, thus helping me become a more independent and savvy student. First-generation student and proud!

First-generation staff Vivian Jimenez.

Vivian Jimenez

Tutoring and Academic Support Services

Things I wish someone had told me when I left for college:

  1. Don’t doubt that you deserve to be exactly where you are. You were selected to attend UB because you have talent and we saw that in you.
  2. Don’t just sit in your room. Be brave. Be bold. Try new things. This is the time for self-exploration.
  3. You are NOT alone. Seek out your squad—those people you know have your back. Ask questions and know that there are a lot of people on campus that are here to help you, including your teachers, advisors, coaches, tutors, etc.
  4. You have a cheering section. You don’t know you do, but you do. I am cheering for you and I know that you've got this!
First-generation faculty, Kamonta Heidelburg.

Kamontá Heidelburg

Graduate School of Education

Being a first-generation college student was important to me. It provided me with an opportunity to create a path that my family and future generations of children could follow to ensure we obtain college degrees and advance the overall Black community.

First-generation staff member Carl Lam.

Carl Lam

Prehealth Advising

As a first-generation student, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know the answers to so many of the questions I had, and my family didn’t either. One of the most challenging things about being a first-generation college student is knowing when to ask for help, and once I did, I felt the difference it made in my life. One of the greatest things about being a first-generation college student is being able to blaze and create your own trail. You don’t have to experience college through the experience of someone else; it's completely your own experience to customize. That’s where I saw myself thrive and I know it’s gotten me to where I am today.

First-generation student Anthony Ni.

Anthony Ni

School of Management

Being a first-generation student to me means setting an example for my younger sister. Being the first and making mistakes is normal. It is also a chance to be the first in my family to achieve something monumental.

First-generation staff Darren Portis.

Darren Portis

Undergraduate Academic Advisement

I must admit, being a first-generation student was exciting, frustrating and a little intimidating. My high school guidance counselor was of very little assistance to me. My mom did what she could to help me out throughout the process of selecting a school, applying and filling out what seemed like an endless number of forms; we spent hours reviewing information together. However, my mom was adamant about fostering my independence regarding my academics and life in general beyond high school, so I had to figure it out and find my way. And I did well enough to help my younger brother through the process two years later. Being a first-generation student and having to maneuver the various pathways of being a student set the foundation for how I managed life beyond my undergraduate experience. 

First-generation faculty Stephen Santa-Ramirez.

Stephen Santa-Ramirez

Graduate School of Education

Successfully persisting through and obtaining my college degree was an honor for my entire family. I was grateful then and continue to appreciate being able to relate to and connect with other first-gen college students over the years. We learn from one another and lift each other up. I am first-gen proud!

First-generation student Devyn Szarpa.

Devyn Szarpa

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

As a first-generation student, I didn’t know what to expect from college. It was a completely new part of my life that I had to adjust to by myself. It was scary at first, but after a few weeks into my first semester, I was able to walk around the campus confidently. Going to college was one of the best decisions of my life, not only for my career, but also for being able to meet people from all around the world. This has taught me to never be afraid to chase after your goals in life because you won’t want to miss the reward it brings you once you are done.

First-generation student Jamal Williams.

Jamal Williams

Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

As a first-gen student, a lot of my approach has been directed toward creating a plan, almost from scratch, that I would need to succeed. However, in doing so, and refining this approach along the way, I have been able to gain success in my aspirations. And the grit that has come along with the process has paid dividends over time. Now reaching this vantage point of where I am today, and where I intend to go, leaves me with an interesting perspective, where I ask: How do I pay it forward so that the people behind me have a more defined pathway to success? 

First-generation student Jaidyn Wolfe.

Jaidyn Wolfe

Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Going into college as first-generation is something that's hard for those not in the situation to understand. No matter how educationally prepared you feel for college, oftentimes it's the logistics that us first-generation students struggle with. For me, I had no idea how scholarships worked or what would make me a good graduate school applicant. With the help of advisors and close friends, I was able to figure out what college was like and how to excel at it. Don't get me wrong: I needed the support that I was lucky enough to receive. But a lot of us first-generation students run on motivation and the desire to excel, and that is ultimately what has put me in the position I am in today.