November 8th was National First-Generation College Celebration Day, when we recognized first-generation college students across the country. At CCV, 57% of students are the first in their family to attend college. The success of these students is a priority at the College and is at the core of our mission to support and challenge all students in meeting their educational goals. This mission, and our values of empowerment and learning, are integrated throughout the College to ensure that all students get the most out of their education, including first-generation students.

For Elizabeth King, CCV’s director of student and career services, it’s important to celebrate first-generation college students because of “the amount of persistence and grit that it takes for so many” to come to college. “They just didn’t grow up with that as an aspiration…or even people thinking that’s something they were even capable of doing,” said King. “I think being able to support that is really important and it shows them that they belong, and I think that that is a big piece for first-gen students is that sense of belonging.”

CCV is proud to recognize and celebrate our first-generation students this First-Gen Day. Meet three of our outstanding students below.

A College Degree: ‘So worth it’

Jenna Gilblair chose CCV for financial reasons. “It was just so much more affordable than all the other colleges in the area, so it was hands down my first choice.” But once she was at CCV, she found that there was far more to like about the College. For one thing: “The community. When you’re a part of CCV there’s this huge network of support and kindness and motivation.”

photo of Jenna Gilblair
Courtesy PhotoJenna Gilblair, CCV-Morrisville alumni, was a recipient of the 2020 Leadership Scholarship.

From her first time meeting with a CCV advisor, Jenna said she “always felt supported” at CCV, which was a main reason that she succeeded. Jenna had started college after high school but didn’t have the level of comfort or support she needed to continue. During that time she also struggled with drug addiction. Years later, after becoming sober, she decided to try again, and this time she applied to CCV. She wanted to learn more about why addiction had affected her personally, and wanted to use her story to help others.

She worked through the challenges of juggling school and home life and found that the most rewarding part of college was the many opportunities she had for leadership and involvement in various organizations. Jenna was a part of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Student Advisory Leadership Council; she sat on Academic Council, had a work study position, and was the recipient of a 2020 leadership scholarship. “All of these things just boosted my confidence and my motivation to do better in the future,” she said.

For Jenna, earning a college degree meant a lot to both herself and her family. “Because I’m a first-generation college student, my parents were extremely proud. They always wanted me to get a college degree, and through my addiction problems when I was a teenager and young adult they didn’t think they would ever see me get there…it was just so worth it to make them proud.”

Finding Inspiration Within

College wasn’t talked about when Josh Chase was growing up. He always loved education, but without the push to go to college he jumped straight into the workforce after graduating from high school. But during this time, he struggled. “My plan to take a year off in between turned into a 10-year battle with drug addiction,” he shared. Now, Josh has been clean for four years and is finishing his CCV degree. “I was kind of lost, then I found this. For my success and recovery, I give thanks to my education at CCV,” he said. “It gave me direction when I really didn’t have it. I kind of lost myself and what I wanted to do, and through the courses and relationships with my peers and instructors I’ve kind of found ‘me’ again.”

photo of Josh Chase
Courtesy PhotoJosh Chase is graduating from CCV this fall with a degree in early childhood education.

Josh made the decision to go to college because for him, climbing any sort of career ladder meant having a degree. He was attracted to CCV because it was affordable, and once he met with his advisor, “it was like the light was turned on and I was inspired.” The connections he made with staff, faculty, and other students is what made his time at CCV so impactful. “I think I’ve learned just as much from the people that I’ve shared these classes with as I have from the course material itself. Sharing it with everybody from different walks of life, and the diversity that is not only there but is celebrated and encouraged, has been hands down my favorite part.”

His CCV education has helped Josh work toward what he really wants to do in life: help others. Josh is graduating from CCV at the end of the fall 2020 semester with a degree in early childhood education, and is planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science to work in the mental health field. He says CCV prepared him to continue his education by helping him learn time management skills, how to overcome procrastination, and the importance of communication with instructors.

Josh shared some advice for fellow first-gen students: “it can be difficult to find inspiration for a first-gen college student in our environments and families, but I’d say look for that inspiration within yourself.”

Pure Determination

Seventeen years after leaving high school, Sonja Kivela decided one night after putting her kids to bed, “I’m going to do my CCV application.” She said that “there was no real thought, just pure determination” in her decision to start college. This determination, along with the support she found at CCV, has carried Sonja to her last semester of college before earning a degree.

Sonja Kivela
Sonja Kivela, St. Albans

Sonja says that at CCV the process of taking assessments, choosing classes, applying for financial aid, and preparing to transfer to a 4-year college was very easy and manageable because of the support from staff. “All the stress I thought I was supposed to expect from starting college just wasn’t ever there,” she said. She also appreciated the personal connections that she made with CCV staff and faculty. When the challenges of balancing life and school came up and Sonja felt like she wanted to take time off from her classes, she was pleasantly surprised by the support she received. “Everybody just rallies behind every student…they all know me, it’s super personal, they genuinely care. Things pop up and they find the resources so I don’t back off from my dreams.”

As a first-generation student, Sonja had the chance to be part of the TRIO program at CCV. The federal program supports first-gen students through tailored advising, coaching, and tutoring to help make their college experience as positive and successful as possible.

“TRIO has given me such fantastic opportunities for leadership,” Sonja said. She was able to participate in statewide events, including those for leadership, as well as opportunities with other TRIO students from across the state such as touring college campuses. Being a part of the TRIO program provided Sonja with more support, from both her peers and her coach, and solidified the idea that “we’re a family, and we’re all in this together.”

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