First Generation to College Holds a Community Reception

School of Dentistry

A multi-generational crowd of students, residents, faculty and staff filled the Golden Gate Room on Wednesday evening last week to share one more important thing in they had in common: They are the first in their family to go to college. 

Hosted by the First Generation to College Initiative and the First Generation to College Student Organization, the gathering gave first-generation students a place to meet each other as well as their mentors.

Nearly 30 percent of incoming freshmen in the United States are members of the first generation in their families to attend college, according to a 2005 report by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the most recent data available. The percentage is likely to be even higher today.

While undergraduate schools offer an array of federally funded support programs to help this demographic group, there are few resources at the graduate level, making UCSF’s initiative unique.

The First Generation effort started in 2008, with a small, monthly discussion group. It has evolved into the First Generation College Student Initiative, part of Student Academic Affairs’ efforts under UCSF’s strategic plan to attract and support the most talented and diverse trainees in the health sciences.

“Financial, educational, emotional and professional support are crucial to the success of any student — but these are not a given for first-generation college students, who are pioneers in the journey through higher education,” says Neesha Patel, PhD, who started the program as a staff psychologist for Student Health Services. This year, Patel was appointed director of the newly formed initiative, which will expand services and resources for first-generation students.

“If you all wear these pins around campus, then we can raise the visibility of our community and give us all a greater sense of belonging here,” Patel said, as she encouraged attendees to wear FG2C (First Generation to College) buttons.

Various speakers shared their college stories and offered words of advice.  Barbara Garcia, the deputy director of the San Francisco Health Department, who was  also the first member of her family to go to college, remembered her days at UC Berkeley, “when there were only fifty Latinos on the whole campus” and her rent was only $80 a month for a studio.

“You’re so lucky here at UCSF to have such strong support from the school.  We didn’t have that in my day,” said Garcia.

John Featherstone, dean of the School of Dentistry, shared his story about growing up on the rough side of the fjord in New Zealand, but eventually making it through what seemed to him like decades of schooling on multiple continents before finally becoming a dean. 

“Shoot high and open every gate that presents itself, because you’ll never know where you’re going to end up,” said Featherstone. “Work as hard as you can, follow your dreams, and they’ll become a reality."

The First Generation to College Student Organization was created this academic year.<pls check edit> One of the founders, Boroka Bo, an ethnic Hungarian graduate student in medical sociology who was born in Romania and is the recipient of a Soros Fellowship, said she hopes “to create a place for students to meet and share their experiences.”  The group plans to work closely with the First Generation to College Initiative. 

The next event will be held on Wednesday, February 13, a discussion (with food provided, of course) entitled “Where Do I Fit In?”  Details for this, for other future events, a list of mentors for first-generation students and other resources can all be found at the Facebook page firstgenUCSF or at