As a first-generation Latina college student, Emily Vega ’19 arrived at Gettysburg unassuming, yet ready. With the support of her parents, she was ready to transform herself into an explorer, take on the world, and find her passion.
“Much of the process of getting into college, finding internships, and growing in an academic and professional setting has been new to both my family and I,” she said. “My parents never sat in a college classroom, experienced syllabus day, or had advisor meetings, but despite not having a college experience of their own, they are delighted to see me at Gettysburg College.”
Life as a first-generation college student like Vega comes with its own unique set of challenges. From college applications and essays to financial aid to choosing a major, everything seems extra hard when you’re maneuvering through the ultimate college checklist on your own.
“I recognize how hard it is for first-generation students to find a sense of belonging and transition into a place that is so foreign,” Vega said. “While other students can talk to their families about their college experiences, many times our families don’t understand what we’re talking about.
Because of these challenges, Gettysburg College is committed to improving the experiences of first-generation students on campus. The Office of Multicultural Engagement (OME), led by Executive Director Darrien Davenport, is a place where students are encouraged to engage and participate in initiatives and programs that stress the value of diversity.
The OME strives to create distinctive opportunities for healthy discourse, allowing students to feel empowered while sharing aspects of their own diversity. “We need to make sure that all of our students have a great experience here—that every student has a chance to investigate who they are as individuals and has access to the resources available at Gettysburg College.” said Davenport.
Vega, who stepped in as OME’s First-Generation Programming Intern, is helping achieve that goal. Her job is to bring together other first-generation students on campus and create a community where they can relate and support one another.
“Learning something new doesn’t happen overnight, and there will be bumps and hiccups along the way,” Vega said. “But there is a place where we can talk about the expectations and pressures we feel and recognize that they do not have to negatively define our experience.”
So far, Vega’s Gettysburg experience is defined by two words—determination and success. At first, she was convinced she would be an English major, but after taking several courses it was clear to her that her passions span the disciplines. So instead of focusing on just English, Vega created her own major—Conversations from the Margins—which focuses on the personal narratives and multimedia public representations of marginalized communities.
“The narratives of marginalized communities are studied across many disciplines, including English; Africana studies; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and sociology,” Vega said. “While I valued the opportunity to take classes in each department, I realized that my own academic interests would require me to put these classes into conversation with one another in a more intentional way.”
Through its interdisciplinary studies program, Gettysburg College encourages students to be innovative and find ways to make their education unique. To do this, the College allows students to integrate and design a major that combines coursework from at least two departments or fields with other experiences such as internships and off-campus study. Not only do students make connections across courses, they are also self-reflective and able to express a growing self-awareness about themselves and their education.
To enhance her interdisciplinary major, Vega spent four months in Morocco working as a student journalist. She traveled across the North African country learning about its history, current events, and people. She wrote stories about those she became friends with, talked to street artists about their large murals in the souks, and even learned how to make different Moroccan meals.
“Being in Morocco pushed me out of my comfort zone and yet, I loved every second of it,” Vega said. “Between every awkward moment I had due to the language barrier, there were many more moments of laughter, discovery and growth.”