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Celebrating First-Generation Students in Honors

| Rosa Gomez

National First-Generation College Celebration was November 8th! It is a time to celebrate the success of first-generation college students and to honor their unique experiences.

UW-Eau Claire’s Honors Program is proud to highlight some of the achievements of our first-generation students. We believe that their stories are a large part of what makes our university great and that they enrich our program. 

First-generation student success deserves to be uplifted and commended; historically, college has been less accessible for students who have not been afforded the privilege of coming from a family with prior experience with higher education. These students have broken that barrier, and gone a step further with their place in the Honors Program.

Our first-generation Honors students come from all different walks of life, bringing in diverse experiences and unique perspectives. Through this diversity, they all share a collective experience: being the first. 

Emma on a tree lined street

Emma Velazquez (pictured on the right) and Grace Olson (pictured below) are two students that have gone above and beyond being the first; their involvement with the Honors program in combination with their determination to push themselves to even greater success have made them successful Blugolds. 

Velazquez is a second-year social work student, with a certificate in child welfare. Her dad, an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, has been a guiding post in her higher-education journey. She said that while her family may not understand the extent of her involvement at UW-Eau Claire, they are still proud of all she has, and will continue to accomplish. 

While navigating college on your own can be difficult, Velazquez said, “it helps [you] find yourself.” Both Olson and Velazquez shared how they relied on their friends and high-school circles when it came to the college application process. Relying on these types of communities is something they both still do as current Blugolds. 

“Having a community of people who want to further their education and are excited about being in college,” Velazquez said, helps inspire her to continue her academic journey. 

This same sentiment was echoed by Grace Olson; she is a fourth-year accounting and information system student with a certificate in equity, diversity, and inclusion. She said becoming a college graduate was a personal goal for her, setting a precedent for future generations in her family. She, like other first-generation students, is carving out a path for future students to follow. 

Both Olson and Velazquez are examples of first-generation students taking the opportunities in front of them and bringing them back to their communities. As a future businessperson and social worker, their experiences as a first-generation is something they can carry over.

Velazquez and Olson mentioned how they have opportunities that were not afforded to their parents, and are working hard to make them proud but are also giving back to their communities along the way. Velazquez has already taken steps to give back to her community. She is passionate about childhood development and has conducted research with the chair of the Social Work Department, looking into the opportunity gap that low-income and first-generation students experience. 

Grace Olson

Olson said knowing that her hard work has paid off has made her proud of how far she has come. She is now serving as the president of the Student Accounting Society and a co-director of the College of Business Student Advisory Council. Aside from her own perseverance, she credits her professors and the UW-Eau Claire community for supporting her in her journey. 

“It’s like I already won, but am taking it a step further,” Olson said. She emphasized how she is an example of how hard work and conviction can pay off. She attributes her work-ethic to her parents who have created a fruitful life for her and carved a pathway to continue her academic success, despite not having taken that path themselves.  

Both Velazquez and Olson mentioned how being a part of the Honors Program was a way to push their boundaries and encourage themselves to reach even higher potential. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who are passionate about furthering their career has helped guide these two Blugolds to where they are today.