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Campus leaders join the nation honoring the role of students who are first in their family to attend college

Gatherings are limited on the campus of Colorado Mesa University because of the ongoing global pandemic. This challenge did not stop first-generation students from turning to film and video to tell their stories and make their voices heard.  

On November 5, the Fearless First Film Festival was organized at CMU to support a nation-wide celebration that occurs each year. The annual showcase of first-generation college students highlights and acknowledges the role that people who are first in their families to attend college play in the enrichment of campus community.   

Since 2015, CMU has served a first-generation student population of nearly 50%. The university’s high percentage of “fearless firsts” is a source of pride for CMU President Tim Foster. 

Foster kicked off the film festival paying tribute to the students by acknowledging their struggles, describing their opportunities and communicating the foundational role they play in creating campus culture. 

“These students epitomize the human spirit and they are a personal inspiration to me,” said Foster. “When a person is willing to step into the unknown for the purpose of growth and self-actualization, they are helping us fulfill the mission of our university. I look forward to this day each year.”         

Before popcorn was served to the socially-distanced festival attendees, students and staff from the TRIO-SSS programs at CMU provided a celebratory cake in the University Center earlier that day. The pre-festival refreshments were distributed along with information that reminded students how TRIO and other student support services at CMU can help them succeed. In 2020, CMU received two TRIO-SSS grants (Regular & STEM) representing nearly $2.8 million dollars. These funds help students achieve their academic potential by expanding opportunities using one-on-one interactions and support group activities. 

Angie Gauthier is the TRIO program director. She assisted with planning the pre-event and provided giveaways at the film festival.  

“Each year we take joy in serving and celebrating our first generation college students,” said Gauthier. “The more we spread the word about the challenges and obstacles these students face, the more support we can build in our community, ensuring they have the resources they need to succeed.”  

CMU hosts among Colorado’s highest percentage of first-generation enrolled college students. 

Following remarks from Foster and Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs Aparna Palmer, PhD, CMU Instructor of Business Georgann Jouflas provided reflections on her life as a first-gen student. Jouflas is also among CMU’s first-generation faculty members.  

The festival took place inside the CMU student run facility, The Point. Prior to the program, dozens of self-styled videos were submitted from around campus. The short videos played on the screen revealing the educational journeys of a wide variety of students.   

In between film screenings, CMU Student Trustee Jaqueline Cordova was joined by TRIO student Kayle Justice. Each of them provided personal testimonials sharing their unique stories. 

Justice shared the story of her journey to CMU and compared her efforts to the groundbreaking achievements of others. 

“Being a first-generation student is like being the first person on the trail while you’re snowshoeing,” she said. “The first steps are difficult, but the pathway is more manageable for those who come after you.”  

Angel Bautista is the Associated Student Government president and is also a first-generation student. Bautista provided remarks and also starred in one of the evening’s short films along with TRIO participant Carla Hernandez Chacon. Chacon shared her story and how her family supports her as best they can.  

“Our community and state do a lot to support us,” said Bautista. “But the values I learned as a kid drive me to take responsibility for doing more. As a student leader I am compelled to believe there is so much more we can do to support people who are first in their family to choose the path of higher education.”  

In 2019, CMU produced a short film called Famous Firsts. This film created connection between human kind’s “famous firsts” and the students on campus who in their own lives are creating “famous first” experiences by attending CMU. The video was shared on social media by former United States Secretary of State Madalyn Albright as well as the nation’s first female astronaut, Ellen Ochoa.  

Also featured in the festival was a documentary-style film created by a first-generation student who joined dozens of fellow first-gen Mavericks to travel to Colorado’s Capitol. The film chronicled the students' advocacy for policy changes meant to support their education. During this trip, CMU was joined by students from other universities who spoke with legislators and voiced their opinions on policy matters affecting resources for first-generation students.  

“Not only was it my first film about this subject matter, but the trip also represented my first time experiencing the state capitol,” said film maker and first-gen student Dalen Brazelton. “The experience was a once in a lifetime effort that I believe will do good for students like me in the future as they choose new pathways for their lives.”  

After completing the screening of the student films, the event ended with a showing of Good Will Hunting. The film is among the most celebrated movies that highlights the theme of education and the transformative role an education plays in the lives of people.   

For more information about supporting CMU’s first-generation students contact the CMU Foundation. Students who are first in their families to attend college, and who need assistance, can contact TRIO-SSS to learn about options and support mechanisms. 


Written by David Ludlam