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First in the family

Hear what it's like to be a college pioneer at First Gen-Con, an event to help first-generation students connect, share their experiences and meet staff and faculty who can help them navigate the college experience.


Interested in attending First Gen-Con? Register here.

The event is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, from 12 to 3 p.m. It is free and free lunch will be available. The Marriott Library and other campus groups are sponsoring the event.

Nicole Pankiewicz’s parents did not want her to go to college. Instead, they encouraged her to get a job in their small Wisconsin town and plan to build a life there.

Pankiewicz held fast to her educational dreams, though, becoming the first person in her family to finish college—four times over, in fact. She has a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate.

It wasn’t easy.

“I ended up going to college a semester late, so right away I felt like an outsider,” said Pankiewicz, a Graduate and Undergraduate Services librarian. “I had a few embarrassing moments and a lot of adjustments to make regarding how I thought about myself as a student, especially after receiving a ‘C’ on my first writing assignment.”

Pankiewicz’s experience as the first person in her family to pursue a college degree is one many U students can relate to—and will be sharing at the Marriott Library’s First Gen-Con event on Friday, Feb. 22.

First Gen-Con, co-sponsored by numerous groups across campus, is designed to help first-generation students connect and share their experiences. It also will provide an opportunity for students to meet staff and faculty who can help them navigate the college experience.

“This event is designed to make a space for first-gen students to share stories and build community, as well as learn about university resources available to them,” said Lis Pankl, head of Graduate and Undergraduate Services at the Marriott Library.

Linda Paternina Serrano, director of the U’s Beacon Scholars program, and Emilio Manuel Camu, Beacon Scholars advisor and a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Program, will be keynote speakers.

Student participants have been invited to share their stories via posters, spoken word, video, talks, etc. on themes such as success stories, lessons learned, imposter syndrome and obstacles.

Pankiewicz said it took her a long time to feel confident in the academic world, an experience that helps her relate to students with similar backgrounds.

“I think it’s important to find people who know what it’s like to be a first-gen and who can offer support and advice, so I’m really excited about First Gen-Con,” Pankiewicz said. “I want to make sure our first-gen students know that they’re not alone and that there are people here at the university who are dedicated to helping them succeed.”