Students share their experiences as first-generation college students at Fresno State during “I am First” panel discussion


Marcos Acosta/The Collegian

Fresno State students Karen Carrillo (left), Angel Barraza (center), and Danna Martinez (right) speak at the “I am First” panel on April 20 at the Library.

By Jazmin Alvarado, Reporter

Leonardo Luna Villicano believes that being a first-generation college student at Fresno State means carrying on his family’s legacy and valuing the challenges they have faced in America.

He said it’s important to set an example and be a role model to his siblings and cousins. His goals are to carry the torch for his family to make them proud.

“Being a first-generation student to me means setting an example for the younger generations and honoring my parents’ legacy and their sacrifices,” Villicano said. “It also means putting myself first sometimes in order to be able to balance everything out.”

On April 20, Latino/a Programs and Services, along withside the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, presented a panel titled “I am First” in the Library.

The panel was composed of four undergraduate, first-generation students who discussed what it means to be first-generation, offering tips for success and explaining how they navigate college academia.

Villicano said Fresno State has helped him navigate college. He learned discipline and passion for his work. Along with help from his professors, he said opportunities will find him at the university.

Villicano said events like the panel discussion allow other first-generation students to feel more comfortable, giving them a space on campus.

“I hope that students will feel more comfortable in navigating college and that they will feel more supported. Fresno State wants you to succeed, so it’s up to students to use those resources to build their success,” Villicano told The Collegian.

Daniela Frausto-Santoyo moderates the “I am First” panel, where panelists described their experiences as first-generation college students. (Marcos Acosta/The Collegian)

The event was moderated by Daniela Frausto-Santoyo, a student coordinator with Latino/a Programs and Services.

“I want students to know that there are people who relate and understand that. Despite the disparity in our backgrounds, we are trying to reach our destinies and pursue a college degree,” Frausto-Santoyo said.

Panelists answered questions regarding their experiences as a first-generation student.

They first defined what it means for them to be the first to go to college.

Karen Carrillo, the 2023-24 ASI president-elect, said it means paving a path for future generations and her younger family members.

She encouraged students to use resources provided on campus like the Educational Opportunity Program.

“I was very fortunate to be admitted into the EOP program for low-income and first-generation students. I think the summer bridge for this program is where it all got started,” Carrillo said. “A resource like EOP helped me stay connected, got my foot in the door and allowed me to meet other students who had similar background stories.”

Other panelists discussed the challenges they faced.

Angel Barraza, a third-year student, said he was afraid to ask for help and not having anyone to talk to was difficult.

“A personal challenge I have faced is not being able to talk to people who I’m really close to, especially like my family,” Barraza said.

Since his family didn’t attend college, he said it’s difficult for his parents to understand the struggles he faces.

Danna Martinez faced similar obstacles. She said the education barrier with her family made it hard to communicate. It made her also feel like she was not fitting in.

“Being a first-generation college student puts you in a very vulnerable position,” Martinez said.

Martinez said in some of her classes, she is the only Latina student, and that makes her feel as if her questions or comments are invalidated.

She told students to always remember their roots and be proud of where they come from.

“Be proud of your ethnicity and where you come from. Remember that there’s people like you, and we’re all here for the same goal: to get a degree,” she said.

Frausto-Santoyo said the panel was organized to inspire the first-generation student community at Fresno State.

“I hope that students are able to take away from this panel the fact that they are not alone as first-generation students. We are currently trying to build a community for students to feel like they belong despite coming from a first-generation background,” Frausto-Santoyo said.