As of 2020, about seventeen percent of college undergraduates self-identified as first-generation, meaning their parents did not graduate from a four-year university.
Daniel Bautista — a Chicago native — is a junior majoring in personal finance and health promotion and equity. He chose to attend UW–Madison because of the vast number of majors and student organizations available and the opportunities and internships offered off- and on-campus.
Not only is Bautista the first in his family to attend college, but he also is one of the few people from his high school attending a four-year university. In fact, he only knows of one other student from his high school that attends UW–Madison, leaving him largely in the dark about much of the minutia of campus.
“For most first-gens, you have to work harder just to meet the standard that people think you should meet,” Bautista says.
First-generation students often experience higher rates of mental illness and are also less than likely to graduate in four years compared to their non-first-generation counterparts. Some attribute these disparities to the lack of support system and personal experiences that family members who have gone to college may be able to provide.
During his time on campus, Bautista has received a stable support system thanks to the Center for Educational Opportunity (CeO), a program focused on providing mentorship and support to first-generation and low-income students. Two years later, he now works as a mentor in its peer navigation program — paying it forward.
Beyond that role, Bautista is also the president of the First Generation Student Success (FGSS) club on campus.
“Our main goal is to create a space where all first-gens are able to come and meet each other, just to build a sense of community,” Bautista says.
He hopes that it will help the students not enrolled in CeO or similar programs since there is no application process nor any prerequisites besides being a first-generation student.
As an intern for the UW South Madison Partnership (UWSMP), Bautista has plenty of experience working with community members. The partnership is a space in the southern part of Madison that aims to support the community through pro bono legal services, continuing education programs and mentoring, as well as many other resources.
Discussing how his experience as a first-gen student impacts public service, Bautista says that it provides different perspectives on how to engage with the community and what public service and civic issues are. These perspectives, along with a position of humility about his own knowledge, seem to help him connect with community members that come to the partnership.
“I think it shapes by how I build relationships and how I interact with people,” Bautista says. “Just having the connection of being first-gen, I have that mindset to listen to people and provide them with the way to reflect and how to advance.”
Bautista’s supervisor, Merry Farrier-Babanovski, the assistant director of UWSMP, expresses the same enthusiasm for what first-gen students can provide.
“The first-gen students who I’ve had the opportunity to work with have all brought such valuable perspectives to our work with community partners and have had passion and drive to make a real impact,” Farrier-Babanovski says.