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School of Natural Sciences

First Generation STEM Students

Being a First-Generation College Student in the School of Natural Sciences at UC Merced

Are you a first-generation college student at UC Merced studying in the School of Natural Sciences? About 73% of our student body are the first to attend college in their families. If you are one of our SNS first gen students, know that you bring a lot to the classroom and the lab! First-generation students are known for their initiative, resilience, pride and loyalty to family, a strong work ethic, and value their education. But what are you actually going through as you pursue your degree? Click the link below to watch a video about being a first-generation college student:

Why First-Generation Students Need Mentors Who Get Them

Being a first-generation college student means your parents or caregivers did not attend college and may not have the knowledge to support you in the experiences you are going through as a UC Merced student pursuing a Natural Sciences degree. You may be feel you don’t have the ‘cultural capital’ (knowledge of university life) or the support networks to navigate a successful degree. You may also feel that you don’t belong (imposter syndrome), that there’s just not enough time to study (family/work commitments), or you may struggle in asking for help (you’ve always been a do-it-yourself type of person). The expectations to succeed and honor your family may feel overwhelming. You are not alone and you have a community of fellow students, staff, and faculty all striving for the goal of supporting you on your journey!

How First Gen UCM Students Succeed in STEM Courses

As a first-generation student studying either Biology, Chemistry, Math, Physics, or Environmental Science, you can apply strategies to succeed in your STEM courses. Rob Thorne, a Physics professor at Cornell University and a first-generation college graduate, provides three simple suggestions:

You Get a Lot of Credit for Showing Up: In the introductory physics classes I teach, students get a lot of points toward their final grade just for showing up regularly and making a good effort. Many first-generation students don't do that, and it costs them dearly.

Developing Expertise Takes Time and Effort: Many students don't appreciate just how much effort even the “smartest” students have to put in to master a subject, especially problem-solving-oriented subjects like Physics.

Self-Image is Important, too: First-gen students also get trapped by their own harsh judgments of themselves relative to their classmates. “How can I ever compete with her? I will never see an A minus or a B minus again. “…recognizing that the working world is a rich ecosystem…can help them maintain their motivation.”

Read the entire article here: 3 Ways to Help First-Gen College Students Survive STEM Courses

First-Generation Faculty and Staff Support

Here are examples of how the UC Merced Faculty, the University of California, and the Educational Community support first-generation college students:

Video on Navigating Your First Year as a UC First Gen

UC Merced Professors Honored for Their Work with First Generation Students

University of California First Generation Student Initiative

Center for First Generation Student Success

First Gen STEM Students on the Web

STEM Achievement for First-Generation College Students

Facing Challenges as a First Generation STEM Student

How Internships Connect First Generation College Bound Students to STEM Careers (UC Merced is mentioned!)