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In the Right Place

Note: This story is a web addition to the print version of Dartmouth Life.

There are 158 students in the Class of 2011 who are the first in their families to attend college, the most in the past five years. For some of these students, making the transition from high school to Dartmouth can be as challenging as it is inspiring. The First-Year Office organized a panel in September where they could talk about that transition, together with their peers and with those who had come before them. In this case, that meant Professor of History Annelise Orleck and Zinnia Amaya '09, both also first-generation college students.

Douglas Gonzalez '11 participated in a panel for first-generation college students held Sept. 21
Douglas Gonzalez '11 participated in a panel for first-generation college students held Sept. 21. (photo by Kawakahi Amina '09)

"At first, I found it hard to fit in," said Amaya. "It was so different from Pomona (Calif.)." Amaya said she reached out to older students from similar backgrounds, and called her father every day. "Eventually, I had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about myself and the people here."

Both panelists urged the students to take advantage of Dartmouth's resources such as the Academic Skills Center and the Writing Program. Orleck also suggested that they reach out to people in the community. "There are more faculty members than you might think who understand the significance of what you're doing," she said. "Our doors are open." Assistant Dean of Students Alexander Hernandez Siegal, who moderated the panel, said, "You are pioneers, but you are not alone."

In sharing his background, Douglas Gonzalez '11, from San Antonio, Texas, said his father dropped out of school in the 7th grade. "I'm not sure how I ended up at Dartmouth," he said. "I always knew in the back of my mind that I was going to do something big." Steve Avila '11 from Florida said: "My mom wanted something different for me. From when I was very young it was school, school, school." Fabeah Adu-Oppong '11 said her mother was against her going so far away from her Houston, Texas, home. "But when she dropped me off and met people and saw everything, she just started crying," she said. "She knew I was in the right place."

As they questioned the panelists, some of the first-year students expressed concern about being smart enough, and educated enough, to thrive at Dartmouth. "Remember that it's you who got here," said Orleck. "It takes a lot to be admitted to this institution, and you did it. You're an important part of this place. Now, make it yours."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 5/30/08