Marissa Maulbeck serves as the president of the First Generation Student Organization at the University of Florida. Below is a Q and A with Marissa about her work and aspirations for supporting first-generation students.
What motivated you to get involved in initiatives to support first-generation students at your school? Was it based on personal experience?
I struggled a lot my first year at UF. I lost my aunt due to cancer and my academics suffered. The support services for first generation students at my school were outstanding. They helped me get back on my feet. I wanted to be involved in providing that same support to others.
What are the initiatives and projects of the First Generation Student Organization?
The First Generation Student Organization exists to foster a diverse group of first generation students on UF’s campus. We seek to provide a community of care, development opportunities, and outreach opportunities to other first generation students in the community. We have a First Generation Empowerment week during the fall to bring visibility on campus and awareness of first generation issues. We also do a big welcome back in the spring semester as a kickoff for making it halfway through the year.
The first-generation identity is often not the most visible on college campuses. Do you think your group has helped create more awareness about it and brought first-gens together?
That is our goal! We are a fairly new student organization but with the help of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program we have been able to support first generation students at UF while bringing awareness and visibility to campus. Our campus is a unique one for first generation support. I feel highly supported as a first generation student by everyone from students to very important officials. Our President Machen was the one who began the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program and the first generation support has continuously expanded ever since.
What are the group’s biggest successes thus far? What are its goals?
Our biggest successes are the First Generation Empowerment week. It brings a lot of awareness about the first generation identity and even brings people in who didn’t previously know they were first generation.
What types of support services does the University of Florida provide?
The University of Florida provides so many support services for first generation students. The biggest one is the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program which provides financial and programmatic support to first generation, low-income students admitted into the University of Florida. This supports 300 incoming freshman each year. We also have various other programs that support first generation students through their minority support services. We have a University Minority Mentor Program, Alliance Ambassadors, Office of Academic Support, and many more program that support first generation students.
What is the impact of the programs the school provides? What are some areas in which you think it can do a better job of supporting first-gens?
The University of Florida is a leader in first generation support services in my opinion from what I have experienced and what I have researched at other universities. The University of Florida is truly committed to seeing first generation students succeed. We can see that by the continued support by President Machen. There are always areas to capitalize on but currently we are doing a great job with the resources we provide.
Why do you think it’s important to support first-gen students in college? What types of programs are vital on any college campus?
First generation students are entering an unknown world when entering college. As in any situation, you must be supported in order to succeed. We just do not have the same type of support as our non-first generation peers whose families likely can provide more insight than ours. It is vital to provide a wide variety of support services for first generation students. To name a few UF has: peer mentoring, student organizations, departments catered specifically to first generation support, adult mentors, workshops for development, leadership academies, financial support, and advisors.
How has your first-generation identity impacted your college experience? What advice would you give other first-gens?
It has impacted my college experience more than I ever knew it would. It changed my entire career path! I now want to support first generation students through a career in student affairs. I would tell other first generation students to not be afraid to ask for help. That was a big issue for me. I always thought I had to do everything on my own. When I finally got the courage to ask for help, I succeeded in college! People care about your success so find those who care.
Do you plan to continue your work with first-gen students after graduation?
Yes! I am applying to graduate school right now to get my degree in Higher Education/Student Affairs. My career goal is to work with first generation students in student affairs. Hopefully, we will see continued growth in this field of support services for first generation students.
To learn more about the First Generation Student Organization, check out its social media sites: