Celebrating FIRST! Students Sharing their Stories


On May 17, 2016 six OSU students shared their stories of being FIRST. At OSU, this past fall term, 27% of students self-identified as being “first”, which most commonly means a first generation college attendee. While being “first” can have a variety of meanings, students who are “first” share many things in common as revealed through the student panel. The panel consisted of a variety of topics including a discussion of backgrounds such as small high school and community college experiences; whether or not they had parental, high school counselor, and/or teacher support; the process of navigating the college application process; the challenges and barriers of identifying campus resources and services, including access to financial aid; what their “first” identities mean to them; and the importance of “firsts” finding community at OSU. After the 45 minute student panel, the audience, which included about 30 attendees, had the opportunity to ask questions.

How It All Began and Plans for the Future:

In the fall of 2015, two OSU faculty, Allison Hurst and Rebecca Olson, who were first in their families to attend and graduate from college, approached Susana Rivera-Mills, Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies, to begin having conversations about how the university could better reach out to and serve “firsts.” During winter term 2016, a panel of faculty who were the first in their families to attend college, guided by two moderators who were also first-generation college students, spoke about their experiences in higher education. After this, Rivera-Mills formed a committee to begin the planning process for another panel, a student panel with a similar format and purpose: to share stories to raise awareness of the issues and challenges facing “firsts” and to build a sense of community among “firsts” to ensure that they have the resources, services, and support they need to succeed. The committee has plans for a Celebrating FIRST event once per term.

Student Panel Information:

Date: May 17, 2016
Location: OSU’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws
Length: 01:13:01 (45 minute student panel and 28 minute audience Q & A)
Panelists: Racheal Croucher, Danielle Warner, Philip Rakowski, Kayla Davis, Christopher bertalotto, and Jesseanne Pope
Moderator: Racheal Croucher

Student Bios:

  • Racheal Croucher grew up in Montana and Oregon; at 12 years old she moved to the Siletz Indian Reservation. She completed her undergraduate degree at Western Oregon University where she majored in psychology. As of the 2015-2016 academic year she is a 4th year graduate student at OSU in the Human Development and Family Studies program.
  • Kayla Davis grew up in Sutherlin, Oregon. Davis is a student at OSU in the Human Development and Family Studies program.
  • Philip Rakowski was born and raised in Torrance, California (the Los Angeles area), and later moved to Woodburn, Oregon. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, he is an undergraduate at OSU as was accepted into the College Student Services Administration (CSSA) graduate program.
  • Danielle Warner grew up in Spokane, Washington. She attended Washington State University in Pullman for her undergraduate degree in psychology. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, she is a 3rd year graduate student in OSU’s Human Development and Family Studies program. She is specifically interested in first-generation college students and how they find the resources they need.
  • Christopher Bertalotto is from Cypress, Texas (Eastern Houston). He began his college studies in Texas but transferred to OSU where he plans to study actuarial sciences, a program in the department of mathematics, as an undergraduate.
  • Jesseanne Pope grew up in Grants Pass, Oregon. Pope was very actively involved in a number of high school clubs and activities and continues to be very involved at OSU as an undergraduate studying sociology, after first spending a year at a community college.

Click Here for the Video Recording of Celebrating FIRST!

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