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National First-Generation College Celebration Day

first-generation college celebration day event
Rebecca A. Eckland

Tim Fochs served for eleven years in the military before he decided to go to college. And yet, the transition wasn’t easy: a first-generation college student, Fochs faced several barriers, which included his mental and physical well-being. He faced injuries from his time in the military and he saw pursuing higher education as a way to begin his journey not only to recovery but to reach his full potential. “I knew that I needed to change, to move forward, and to make my way outside of my bubble at home and go to college,” he said. 

Fochs started with TMCC’s Veterans Upward Bound Program, a TRIO program dedicated to serving veterans who are interested in going to college, but who need additional supports in order to do so. The decision to return to college and to pursue his education made all the difference for Fochs, who would earn his Associate of Science degree in Computer Science. 

“One of my biggest inspirations was the Veterans Upward Bound program,” he said. “They helped me to realize my potential, and that I was more than somebody with a lot of problems in their life.” 

Fochs was one of five distinguished panelists at the event, held in celebration of National First-Generation College Celebration Day. He was joined by Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado, current SSS Participant Beatriz Silva-Montenegro, TMCC Academic Advisor & UNR TRIO Scholars Alumnus Sione Lavaka, and TMCC Alumni and UNR Upward Bound Alumnus, Zoheb Ashraf. 

While their backgrounds and experiences as first-generation college students are diverse, these panelists shared the positive influences, sources of inspiration and words of wisdom for other first-generation college students. As Silva-Montenegro noted during the panel discussion, it’s not always useful to think in terms of failure versus success; education, like life, is a journey. Overcoming obstacles, even if that meant “failing” meant that she was still on her journey. 

“I am here to learn,” she said. “Not just to pass.” 

About the National First-Generation College Celebration Day

In 2017, Nov. 8 was selected as the date to honor first-generation college students as a way to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The HEA was intended to “level the playing field” that had too long weighed against Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. The act created federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their education, as well as making key investments in institutions of higher education. Most importantly, the HEA brought TRIO programs into existence. Even over fifty years later, TRIO programs continue to create opportunities for low-income, first-generation college students to access higher education and to receive supports to contribute to their ability to persist and succeed. 

This was TMCC’s inaugural celebration of the Nov. 8 holiday, and the first event to formally celebrate our new TRIO Student Support Services Program. The ceremony was attended by Nevada NSHE Regent Joe Arrascada, TMCC Leadership as well as TMCC students and staff. Maria Sandra Jimenez, Director of the TMCC TRIO Support Services Program, served as emcee for the event. Jimenez, as well as TMCC President Dr. Karin Hilgersom, Vice President of Student Services and Diversity Estella Gutierrez, and Veterans Upward Bound Director Robert Hernandez shared their experiences as first-generation college students.

“First-generation college students didn’t always receive strategic support to navigate college and career pathways. TRIO programs have changed that, and we need to continue to be engaged with TRIO supports,” said  Dr. Hilgersom during the official program. 

Reaching For Your Dreams

The celebration's panel discussion was a celebration of overcoming hardship, perseverance and an ongoing dedication to education. Panelist Ashraf's story illustrates these themes: he was born and raised in Pakistan, and moved to the United States in 2010. In 2011, he became an Upward Bound Student and that changed his life. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but Upward Bound helped me find my way,” he said. Today, Ashraf has just been accepted into a Master’s program. 

To other first-generation colleges students, Ashraf says that no matter what, the important part is to keep working toward your goals. “If you intended to do something, don’t stop,” he said. “If you start to do something and you feel like you’re going to fail, just keep trying. You will get there.”

For more information about the TRIO Student Support Services at TMCC, contact them at 775-674-7676.