What It Takes To Be A First Generation Student at AIC



AIC’s Student Engagement promoting Hispanic Heritage Month in DC

Valerie Ferrer-Ramos, Staff Writer

It was September of 2022, and the start of AIC’s first semester of the academic year had already begun. Many students were coming back from summer break; others were transferring from their former colleges or universities, and others had never experienced their first year of college. In this first week or so, new students were getting used to what it’s like to be in college, which from experience, is both nerve-wracking and exciting. Along with academics, communities are also being created with this new encounter. There’s the group of freshmen that know each other already from high school, the group of athletes, the group of people in the same majors. But there’s another group that isn’t always recognized for who they are, and who are mixed into these other communities. These are the first-generation students.

AIC’s Student Engagement promoting Hispanic Heritage Month in DC (@aic_diversityedu)

Being a first-generation college student isn’t as simple as being the first in your family to go to college. A first-generation student has the natural calling to break the non-academic routine of the past generations behind theirs. One has to commit to a life-changing decision where everyone around is relying on you to make something out of your family’s name, and much more. In the words of the graduate from Midtown High School, Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” His life story isn’t as relatable to many of us at American International College, but like the many villains he faced, first-generation students have to learn how to handle their education with darting commentary, questions, concerns, in addition to the burdens that our families may put onto us as they respond to their descendants experiencing something new.

Like that power, our education became an advantage in life the moment we told our high school counselors that we committed to AIC. Now using that same advantage, we have to undergo a process of prioritizing and managing the important things we allow in life.  Unfortunately, many of us lack the guidance to do so in the beginning, due to lack of familial experience and support.

1pm ACE class photo (ACE staff)

But thankfully for AIC’s Core Education program, also known as ACE, many of the confrontations that we may have confronted in this academic walk have been removed or resolved. The designated professor of the ACE program for the past twelve years, Terrence O’Neill, understands that one of the biggest challenges that sometimes go unnoticed for first-generation students is the lack of recognition. In his words, O’Neill states, “Those around you, although they can love and support you, they’re not always going to realize what it takes for you to be a college student… Where sometimes as a student, you have to be laser-focus, or be able to let things go.”

ACE has become a safe place for first-generation students where they can feel like they belong once again. The professors who teach the classes, the students who come from various backgrounds, and the events that the program organizes all contribute to a welcoming environment for first-generation students.

For Milliani Nieves, a current ACE student and an AIC freshman in the nursing major, ACE is one of her favorite classes. “ACE is the only class I like going to,” she said. “If I can skip any class and go to one, it’ll be that one… We’re all learning at the same time.”

Being a first-generation student may be defined as going into college on your own, but it doesn’t necessarily mean having to deal with encounters alone. Hence, the ACE program has been able to prove to many students like Nieves and myself that being in that class is like “being with family.”

Whether you are a college student entering your first semester, or whether you are one semester away from graduation, college is meant to be a challenge for all students. The ups and downs that first-generation students face prior to committing to American International College differ from person to person, which I learned after further getting to know my own classmates. But time and time again, when I asked what advice they would give, or what motto would represent what an AIC first-generation student is in 2022, each classmate I interviewed came back with the same answer: “people not willing to give up…”

Genesis Ayala, a junior nursing major at AIC, decided to speak some words of motivation to all first-generation students like herself: “Don’t give up just because someone says you can’t do it,” she said. “Keep doing what you want to do… Make sure you never forget who you are and where you came from.”