First To Go Program Celebrates 10 Years, Receives Designation

ACADEMIC RESOURCE CENTER | LMU’s First To Go Program celebrates its 10th anniversary of serving hundreds of first-generation college students through valuable resources and opportunities for their academic, professional, and personal growth. The program was started by La’Tonya Rease Miles, Ph.D., a first-generation student herself and whose impactful tenure as director broadened and deepened the impact of the Academic Resource Center. First To Go’s mission is to reinforce and build upon the unique sources of cultural capital first-generation college students bring to the university to create a community that promotes and progresses our students’ successes during their LMU tenure.

In recognition of its success, LMU was chosen to participate in the 2020-21 cohort of First-Gen Forward Institutions, as announced in May 2020 by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the Suder Foundation. The First-Gen Forward designation acknowledges higher education institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing first-generation college students’ outcomes.

“We want First To Go students to know and understand that this is an assets-based program,” said Alexia Pineda, First To Go program coordinator. “We view first-generation students as our educators because they inform us every day what resilience looks like. They are the students who really know what it means to solve a problem, and we want them to realize the superpowers that they already have.” She notes that the majority of first-generation students at LMU are leading the student body and the next generation of Lion leaders, including many in ASLMU.

LMU’s First To Go program started in 2010 out of the need to fill a gap in students’ services and who wanted to see themselves better represented, initially with 10-12 first-generation students. The program doubled the year after and has kept growing ever since. The First To Go Scholars Program, a yearlong learning community that includes a summer intensive program, includes a 1-unit course in the fall and spring semesters of their first year taught by other first-gen student leaders. Initiatives that spring from First To Go are student-centered and student-led, said Pineda.

“First-generation students represent the first in their families to enter the higher education learning environment,” said Mia Watson, director of ARC. “They are all exploring their identities and highlighting their history as they apply what it means to be a first-gen student to their lifelong goals. There’s a sense of irony that the program’s 10-year anniversary coincides with a global pandemic, [First To Go] is needed to support the lives of our students this year more than ever.”

For Daniel Herrera ’21, a psychology and Spanish double major, the priority is the pride that first-generation students have for school. “I want everyone to know the pride and immense effort each first-gen student puts in their schoolwork and extracurriculars,” Herrera said. “The higher education system was not designed in favor of first-generation students, but we strive for exemplary feats that make us leaders in our communities and the world.”

For first-year student Atithi Multani ’24, First To Go has given her the academic and emotional support to meet the challenges of this academic year and virtual learning environment. “I’ve received tutoring from the Academic Resource Center, learned so many things about college, and made a lot of new friends,” Multani said. “I want the LMU community to know that First To Go and first-gen students are all there for each other. First-To Go is a family, and we can always count on each other for advice, a shoulder to cry on, or even to share a laugh.”

Because pandemic restrictions prevented the program celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2020, the LMU community will be invited to virtual celebrations in mid-spring 2021.