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Rutgers Celebrates First Generation Students

KD19 Jonelsy Gonzalez 1x2

Rutgers University has long been a leader in serving the needs of first-generation students. During the week of November 8-13, 2020, the university is reaffirming that commitment as it marks a national First-Generation College Celebration organized by the Council for Opportunity in Education and Center for First-generation Student Success.

The School of Arts and Sciences is proud to join in this event. The stories below highlight SAS students, alumni, and faculty, ranging from a hospital CEO to a neuroscience graduate student to a current undergraduate who extends a helping hand to the next generation by volunteering summers as a facilitator for for Upward Bound, the federally-funded college preparation program. 

“It was easy putting myself in their shoes, because I have been in their shoes,” says Jonelsy Gonzalez.


  • Inspired by Blue-Collar Parents, an Alumnus Helps the Next Generation

    Mike Azzara grew up in a working-class town where fewer than half the kids in his senior class went to college. But Azzara’s parents had different expectations. “There was never any question I would be going to college,” said Azzara, who graduated high school in 1965. “It was the expectation from the get-go.”

  • Latino and Caribbean Studies

    Jonelsy Gonzalez entered Rutgers with the intention of pursuing a major in criminal justice. By second semester she felt compelled to add Latino and Caribbean studies as a second major. Her teachers nourished her intellectual curiosity, encouraged her to question long-held assumptions, and stretched her knowledge of the world, including the legacy of colonialism. 

  • A Humanities Professor’s Enduring Connection with Students

    Richard Serrano tells students the story of how his father had been discouraged from going to college by a guidance counselor who suggested he become a television repairman. Serrano would go on to become the first in his family to attend college, receiving strong encouragement from his father.

  • Rutgers Graduate Mixed Activism with Academics and is Poised for Career as a Scholar

    A double major in political science and Latino and Caribbean studies, Geidy Mendez was one of 14 in the nation selected for a national political science summer program. A graduate in the Rutgers class of 2019, Mendez is now a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine.

  • His Research Mission: Solving the Mysteries of Mental Illness

    Andres Villegas grew up in Elizabeth, the son of a single mom who had emigrated from Ecuador. He was uncertain about his future, and undecided about college. “I felt lost in high school,” Villegas says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life.”