Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. By Starla Pointer, Aug. 19, 2019. Find more News-Register stories here.
About half of Linfield College’s new group of first-generation college students arrived on the McMinnville campus Friday to participate in pre-orientation activities.
While the school has always welcomed students who are the first in their families to enroll in higher education, this year Linfield is placing a special emphasis on those in the “First Gen.”
About 43 percent of the 532 new students qualify for the designation, compared to about 25 percent in previous years. They will receive support all year — and beyond.
The First Gen program is designed not just to attract students, but to ensure they succeed and graduate, said Gerardo Ochoa, special assistant to the president and director of community relations.
Ochoa oversees the program, which will include monthly luncheons and discussions with new and returning first-gen students; mentoring by upperclassmen, staff and faculty members; and additional support.
On Friday, many new students wore T-shirts with the “First Gen” logo, displaying pride for their accomplishments. They also slipped on bracelets in the college colors, red and purple.
“Commitment bracelets,” said President Miles Davis, who was a first-generation college student himself.
The bracelets represent that students understand the mission of the college and that Linfield is “committed to your success,” Davis said. “Please wear them with the same pride we feel at having you here.”
Elena Lundby put on her bracelet immediately. She had been on campus just long enough to drop off gear in her dorm room and meet her roommate prior to the luncheon. Now she was processing plenty of information at the same time she was absorbing her new surroundings.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m wondering about the practical things, like organizing my room and how to get across campus to class.”
Lundby comes from the tiny town of Mill A on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, across from Hood River.
After graduating in a class of two, she was attracted to Linfield because of its small size. At a close-knit college, she said, she’ll have a chance to know everyone, including her professors.
She hasn’t declared a major yet, but she’s interested in creative writing and theater.
Gisselle Hernandez, who graduated from McMinnville High School in June, also is among Linfield’s new First Gen group.
A few years ago, she said, she didn’t believe she could attend such an esteemed college, if she went to college at all. But Linfield recruiters and Mac High’s AVID program convinced her otherwise.
AVID, especially, led her to become more involved in clubs and activities in high school, and that helped her obtain scholarships. The program stresses academics, responsibility and setting goals, which helped her “learn more about myself.”
“I learned to embrace my culture,” she added.
Hernandez, who works at Tequila Grill, will study education at Linfield. “I’m very excited to learn new things and better myself,” she said.
She’s also looking forward to making her parents proud, she said.
So is Angela Cano-Hernandez of Portland, who brought her parents and younger brother to the orientation.
She was attracted to Linfield by its nursing program and by the financial aid it offers. “But mainly, I like the diversity here,” she said. “I like more inclusiveness.”
Cano-Hernandez’s high school counselors suggested the McMinnville school might be right for her. She researched it and agreed, although she hadn’t set foot on campus prior to Friday.
“I really like it here,” she said, enjoying the trees and the brick buildings.
Addison Grimm of Ridgefield, Washington, arrived at Linfield Friday with her grandmother, Denise Krauss. They are very close, they said, and Krauss already is planning plenty of trips to McMinnville to visit.
Krauss is happy her granddaughter will have the extra support of the First Gen program, as is Grimm. She decided to look at Linfield after talking with one of her mother’s friends, who is an alum. “I toured the campus and really liked it,” she said, recalling that she felt “this is my home.”
She already has a running start on college, since she was able to earn credits while still in high school. She expects to spend a year on the McMinnville campus finishing prerequisites for nursing school, then transfer to Linfield’s campus in Portland to complete her RN degree.
Grimm discussed her plans Friday with Teresa Derochowski from the admissions department, who is one of the staff members serving as mentors to First Gen students this year.
“I know the classes will be hard,” she said. “But I’m excited. And I’m excited for dorm life.”
Mako Minoda was among the new students who traveled farthest for the orientation event. She’s from the Big Island of Hawaii, the trip marked her first visit to Linfield’s campus.
“I didn’t like the plane ride,” said Minoda, who will major in nursing, “but I like the environment at Linfield.”
Her father — who admitted to being a little sad about seeing his eldest go off to college — and her younger sister accompanied her. They helped her store her belongings in her room in Larsell Hall, then walked across campus to the Oak Grove for the orientation event.
One of the most excited at the orientation was Zeila Medina, a Linfield junior, who has been working all summer to contact the more than 225 First Gen students.
She had texted and e-mailed and Facetimed them, but hadn’t met the new students in person until the orientation luncheon.
“This is exciting. It’s overwhelming!” Medina said happily as she greeted students and answered questions. “All these new friends, and now I know their names and their faces.”
Medina came to Linfield from McMinnville High School, from which she graduated in 2017. She chose her hometown college because it was affordable for her, she said, and because it offered an education major — she wants to teach special ed.
“Linfield really made me feel welcome,” she said. Staff members “opened those doors for me, and even helped me apply for colleges. I really appreciated that.”
Medina recalled her first day at college. She was happy, yet she felt as if she were leaving her family behind.
“I was proud and sad at the same time. It was a new world,” she said.
Now she tells her younger sister that college is an option for her, too. And she tells other first-generation students that, as well.
“Helping the First Gen students is such a passion for me,” Medina said.
These students help enrich the college experience for everyone, she said. And for her, she said, “it makes Linfield feel more like home.”