First Gen Advocates

Victoria Sharp, Karissa Romanelli and Dynisty Wright of Penn State First Gen Advocates' executive board sit at the Involvement Fair on Aug. 25.

Being a first-generation college student can come with its own challenges, and at Penn State, the First Gen Advocates seek to advocate and provide resources for its members.

Karissa Romanelli, social media chair of FGA, said the club has helped first-generation students like herself “navigate through the college experience.”

“[FGA] makes sure that first-generation students have resources if they need it but also a support network that might be missing that other students that have parents that have gone to college might already have,” Victoria Sharp, FGA’s treasurer, said.

According to its website, FGA defines first-generation students as “any student who is first in their family to either go to college, would be the first to finish college, had a parent(s) who only received an associate’s degree, and we also like to include any student who will be the first in their family to attend college in the United States.”

Sharp (doctorate-biology) said, as a first-generation student herself, she believes the organization fills a hole for others like her.

The club’s main way it supports first-generation students is through its mentorship program, FGA President Dynisty Wright said.

The program partners undergraduate students with a mentor — either another undergraduate student, a graduate student or a faculty or staff member, Wright (doctorate-biology) said.

“Our mentorship is based on the student’s needs and wants for the mentorship relationship,” Wright said.

Another resource available for first-generation students is the career pipeline through PricewaterhouseCoopers, Geek Girls and Liberty Mutual, according to Wright.

“We help students try to find jobs in those specific organizations and [PwC, Geek Girls and Liberty Mutual] recruit through our organization with events,” Wright said.

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FGA also hosts career support and resources, and various events can be found on its Instagram page.

For example, its college planning panel strives to help students determine how to achieve their goals in and after college, Sharp said.

Sharp said she believes the club is supportive of not only students’ career aspirations but also social wellbeing.

“We try and foster an inclusive, welcoming and fun environment, so if students also want that social connection, they can interact with the entire organization,” Sharp said.

Romanelli (junior-public relations) said FGA’s goal for this year is to grow its membership and “get [FGA] more widely known at Penn State.”

“We are planning to add more career pipelines,” Wright said. “The career pipelines already in existence are mostly aimed toward STEM students.”

To make the career pipelines more accessible to members of FGA in different colleges at Penn State, Wright said she hopes to make partnerships with companies in more fields other than STEM.

On a personal level, Wright, Sharp and Romanelli said they agreed supporting first-generation students through this organization is meaningful to them.

Wright said “helping undergraduate students to overcome challenges” is what FGA means to her.

“It's encouraging these students who might not have a lot of encouragement otherwise to really pursue their dreams,” Sharp said.

Romanelli said being a first-generation college student means a lot to her.

“I take being a first-gen student really close to my heart, so meeting other people who struggle the same as I do and go through the same things is really important to me.”

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