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First-generation students find community at NC State


This article was written for our sponsor, MyFutureNC.

First-generation college student Michael Nunez has found his niche.

Nunez started his education at Wake Technical Community College, earning an associate’s degree before moving on to North Carolina State University to pursue a degree in computer engineering. For him, the community found on campus has led him to experiences he never would have anticipated.

“Initially when I first got here, I realized how competitive the environment was. You see people chasing opportunities left and right, and some of them already had things like internships set up. I wanted to get those opportunities through the Hispanic community,” said Nunez. “I started looking into organizations I could join and ways to be a part of and support my community. I went to an organization called Juntos, and I met with other work-study students there and found out what other organizations they were part of, what opportunities I could take, if I could mentor, or if there were any types of networking opportunities.”

Through those networking opportunities and connections formed at Juntos, Nunez was able to find the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, which hosted a national conference for students to learn more about job opportunities and internships.

Interacting with other Hispanic students helped Nunez feel more comfortable and confident in his environment.

“There is a sense of being out of place, and I’ve tried to find my identity through these communities. I’ve been in situations before where I felt like I was out of touch with my culture because I wasn’t around my people due to the environment, and some of those things you can’t control. But when I saw the opportunity and that there was a Hispanic community here, I got a lot more comfortable and more ambitious,” said Nunez. “They have the type of advice I needed, they know the approach, the humor, the focus that our community wants. Being around those types of people was definitely something that pushed me and helped me get used to the scenery at NC State.”

Now in his junior year, Nunez is still an active member in these communities and uses his experience to encourage other Hispanic and first-generation students. Through his talent for public speaking, he’s also been able to increase awareness to a larger audience.

“When I speak, I’m not only representing myself — I’m representing every single organization that I am a part of, whether that’s being a Goodnight Scholar, a work-study student, or a member of these organizations,” said Nunez. “It’s amazing to see people connecting with my story and it resonates with them. I want to leave them with an impact, and show them that it’s a journey, not a race.”

For Nunez, it all started with networking and Juntos — and for students with different backgrounds than Nunez, there are plenty of other communities and programs to turn to for support.

In Caitlyn Sosbe’s case — a first-generation student living in a one-parent household — the TRIO program offered support for her all the way through graduation.

“TRIO is an organization that helps a lot of low-income, first-generation minority groups who are historically and statistically less likely to graduate,” said Sosbe. “I think one of the biggest kind of hurdles for first-gen students is that a lot of us are really proud, and we don’t really want to accept help. But there comes a time when you need to accept it and know that it’s not a burden to go and seek that help.”

Through TRIO, students get assigned an advisor that they meet with at least once a semester to discuss both academics and well-being — discussing emotion and mental health, as well as any specific challenges students are struggling with and what resources they can lean on.

Throughout the year, TRIO hosts a number of educational events, focusing on things like financial stability and general tips for college preparedness. They also have tutoring and a peer mentor, the latter of which Sosbe served in as both a mentee and a mentor.

Her experiences at TRIO helped prepare her for the professional world.

“I was an intern for TRIO during my last year of college, and I also got to work on TRIO’s podcast Beyond the Bell Tower, which helped me gain experience but also I was able to hear more stories from past and current TRIO students about their journeys. Playing a part in that was really enriching, and it helped me learn more about myself and about what people with similar backgrounds have accomplished,” said Sosbe. “ I also worked on a focus group to see how TRIO can help students further their education, what aspects of TRIO were working, and what wasn’t so we could continue providing as much support as possible.”

For her work on the focus group and TRIO assessment, as well as her cumulative work with TRIO throughout her years at NC State, Sosbe earned the Howling Success award. Selected based on nominations from all NC State University faculty and staff, Howling Success awards recognize students who excel in the classroom and extracurricular activities. Nominees are typically involved in leadership positions, serve in communities across campus and participate in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs departments.

Now graduated, Sosbe uses her experience with TRIO to work with an after-school care program, supporting the kids that she works with.

For both Nunez and Sosbe, their journeys emphasize the importance of unique communities and support programs at NC State and beyond.

“You may have to look for the community you need, but once you find it you can start branching off to other similar communities. At NC State, there’s a multicultural student affairs center, and you can ask them what organizations align with your cultural identity,” said Nunez. “They want you to feel welcomed in the environment that NC State provides.”

This article was written for our sponsor, MyFutureNC.

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This Post was originally published on WRAL Techwire

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