January 02, 2019

On November 8, Century College hosted a First Generation College Student Celebration. It was an opportunity for the many first-generation employees, students, and alumni from Century College to share their stories. It was also an opportunity for the community to celebrate their accomplishments.

First-generation college students are defined as students whose parents or legal guardians did not earn a Bachelor’s Degree. It’s estimated that over 50 percent of college students are first-generation. Research shows that they are more likely to drop out of college and less likely to graduate.

This year marked the 30th year of TRIO programs at Century College. These are grant-funded programs that provide support to low-income and first-generation student populations. Century College currently offers three TRIO programs, including Student Support Services, which helps first-generation and other students attain financial aid, apply for scholarships, and guides them on their way to college success.

“For first-generation students, college presents real challenges. Even though many parents are supportive of their children achieving a college education, many simply don’t know what they don’t know,” said President Angelia Millender, who is herself a first-generation college student. “That is why our focus today is to bring awareness to the work that must continue in order to support these students.”

A Special Guest

After a message of encouragement to students, President Millender introduced Betty McCollum, the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 4th District. Representative McCollum, who President Millender referred to as “a champion of education,” was happy to join the celebration.

“I know the students, faculty, and everyone at Century College make this a very special place to learn,” said Representative McCollum, whose son and daughter are alumni of Century College. “The fact that Century College creates opportunity for thousands of first-generation students is truly important, and should be celebrated.”

Representative McCollum, a staunch supporter of TRIO, appreciated Century College’s efforts and success in serving first-generation students. But she was more impressed by Century College’s dedication to do more. As a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, she has committed to ensuring that Congress continues to fund student support programs.

“I want to thank Century College for taking a pause and saying, ‘we’ve come a long way, but there are so many more places we can go,’ said Representative McCollum. “We’re going to go there together.”

First-Generation Stories

The celebration featured a number of first-generation speakers, including Century College alumni Corey Culver, Vice President of Student Affairs Pakou Yang, TRIO for Veterans participant Paul Garay, SSS TRIO participants Panghia Chuyanaheu and Jeremy Maas, and Century College staff member Michele Jersak.

These individuals took the stage to share their stories and express their gratitude to the people who helped them along the way. Culver, the Emcee of the celebration, was sure to acknowledge the hard work and support of his family, who fought through poverty to give Culver a chance to succeed.

The speakers were open in sharing their struggles, both personal and academic. Culver recalled having “basically a 0 GPA.” Garay shared his past addiction to pain killers that onset after a serious injury sustained during military service. Jersak was nearly a high school dropout.

Though all of the speakers faced unique challenges, they were united by their perseverance.

“I’m not the brightest guy in the world,” said Garay. “But I’m the kind of guy that, if you give me something to do, I’m not going to run away from it.”

Finding Hope

The speakers described how difficult and overwhelming college was when they first arrived. Each of them, though, ended up finding the support they needed. For former and current students at Century College, the support programs, academic counselors, and dedicated staff members were their saving grace.

“If it wasn’t for mentors guiding me, for people who believed that I could succeed, I don’t know if I would have made it,” said Jersak. “That’s the kind of support students get at Century College.”

Culver credits SSS TRIO for turning his grades around and lifting him from academic suspension toward his degree. Maas and Chayanheu similarly credited their SSS TRIO for their academic success.

Garay talked about how it seemed as if people were speaking a different language in the classroom until Century College stepped in to help him. Garay credited Shannon Kasperson from TRIO Veterans Services for being with him every step of the way. He also mentioned Summer Scholars Academy, which gave him the leg up he needed to succeed academically.

“The people at Century College really helped me out,” said Garay. “They showed me that, if you are struggling, there’s hope.”