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First-generation university students set to make their mark at AUS
Starting university can be a daunting experience for students, particularly so if they are the first in the family to attend university or obtain a bachelor’s degree. This is the case for many students beginning their studies at American University of Sharjah (AUS) this week who identify as first-generation university students. The group attended a special session for first-generation students held during the university’s orientation week, allowing them to discuss their experiences as first-generation students and learn how to get the support they need.
The session’s panel consisted of Haifa Ismail, Director of Student Engagement and Leadership in the AUS Office of Student Affairs; Dr. Sandra Knuteson of AUS’ Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences; special guest Lela Hautau of Colorado State University; and current AUS students who identify as first-generation students, Fazel Banouei and Zainab Al Lami.
Dr. Knuteson spoke about her own experience as a first-generation university student. “As I was a first-generation student myself, I am aware of the unique challenges faced by students identifying as first-generation students. Students whose parents or other close family members have attended university are able to draw upon the experiences and knowledge those family members have of the higher education system, which is very complex. First-generation students may not have this support structure in place,” she said.
The session is part of a larger initiative to assist first generation students, “We want to provide a place where first-generation students feel welcomed and can access information and connect with other students on campus who are first generation. We are happy to see that our Peer Leaders and Team Leaders who are first-generation students are sharing their experiences and giving advice on how to find resources and opportunities on campus to support their overall university experience.”
For AUS sophomore and first-generation student Fazel Banouei, being the first in his family to attend university is a source of pride, for both himself and his family, but there have been challenges. “I am the youngest child in my family, so my parents and my siblings have always pushed me towards education. Even though they did not attend university, they have always supported me in entering higher education. Every achievement I make gives my family a sense of pride and happiness. This makes me feel very lucky to be a first-generation student. I have become a point of information for my relatives seeking to send their children to university. My niece and nephew are both in the final phases of high school and I am happy to be able to give them advice as they become first-year students,” he said.
Banouei, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and hopes to pursue a career in autonomous technology or aerospace, said having access to financial support and programs that reduce the cost of a university education are of benefit to first-generation students like himself.
“I was attracted to AUS because of its reputation, but also because of the scholarship packages available. I am also hoping to pursue AUS’ Accelerated Master’s Program, which allows students to begin their graduate studies in the final year of their bachelor’s degree, reducing the time, and cost, of a master’s program,” Banouei said.
Students like Banouei will benefit from AUS’ ongoing commitment to supporting first-generation university students, with networks of first-generation students to be strengthened through new initiatives.
“We are looking to the experiences of other universities, such as Colorado State, which have been at the forefront of first-generation programs, to ensure the activities we roll out here at AUS are as effective as possible in making first-generation students feel welcome and navigate the complexities of higher education as seamlessly as possible. We are committed to helping every new student succeed and having these new support structures for first-generation students in place will make the transition to university life that bit easier for students identifying as first-generation students,” Ismail said.