First generation, not the last. That is the motto of Piedmont Community College’s (PCC) first-generation week, where this year, the College observed its second annual first-generation celebration, recognizing students and employees who are paving a path of opportunity for their respective families.

“First-generation” means that these students and employees did not have parents nor grandparents who completed a degree from a four-year university, so they, as well as their siblings, are breaking the mold and becoming the first generation in their family to pursue a degree, diploma, or certification from a higher education institution.

PCC’s first generation celebration was coordinated by the College’s TRIO program, a federal outreach and student services program designed to provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Vennesa Williams, the TRIO Educational Opportunity Center Coordinator, said the goal was to commemorate the body of PCC’s first-generation students and provide extra support as they pursue their education.

“These individuals have overcome so much to be in this position, aiming high while pursuing educational and career success,” Williams said. “We want to celebrate and reinforce their ambition and offer additional resources that will consistently help them as they continue to forge their way to personal and professional greatness.”

Resource fairs on both PCC’s Person and Caswell County Campus began the week, offering information from various college resources such as the PCC Foundation, TRIO, University Transfer, Admissions and Financial Aid, State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina, and the Department of Social Services.

The week was then capped off with a recognition of success for first-generation PCC employees who completed their degrees and current first-generation PCC students pursuing higher education. The celebration included dinner, various speeches, a lyrical performance, and concluded with a keynote address from PCC alum and current attorney, Paulina Lopez.

Lopez is a licensed North Carolina Attorney. As a Person County native, she started attending PCC in high school through the Huskins and Dual Enrolled programs, now called Career and College Promise, and was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to complete her studies. She graduated from PCC in 2012, Southern New Hampshire University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology, UNC Chapel Hill in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Political Science, and was awarded a full tuition scholarship to the North Carolina Central University School of Law, where she completed her Juris Doctor degree in 2019.

During her keynote speech, Lopez offered guests an understanding of what it means to be a first-generation student and words of wisdom to continue to strive to reach their goals.

“Many of you have overcome great barriers to be here; to continue to be here,” Lopez said. “All of you continue to make the decision to invest in yourself and your future. As first-generation college students, you are all trailblazers. And together, each of you is apiece of an even larger puzzle – a better informed and educated future.”

“It’s your actions toward your goals that got you here today, and it is consistent actions that build the habits that will continue to drive you towards your success,” Lopez continued. “What constitutes that success is up to you. If you can define it, you can plan for it, and put that plan into action.”

PCC students and employees also offered their testimonies and perspectives and what it means for to be a first-generation student.

“I feel I am setting a good example for my children by showing them that it is never too late to get your degree,” said Thomas Williams, PCC student. “My grandma used to tell me ‘Can’t never did anything!’ meaning that saying ‘I can’t’ will never get you anywhere. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of failure because it is part of the process, too.

“My parents struggled greatly with finances, and they did not see college as option for me because of cost, even though they desperately wanted me to go,” said Amy Brooks, PCC Psychology Instructor. “I saw college as my only option. Having an education opens the door to accessibility for both of my children as they will never have to question their ability to grasp education.”

Piedmont Community College’s Spring semester registration is open now for students to start classes in January. Classes are available face-to-face, online, or a mixture with eight- and 16-week class length options. Get started at www.piedmontcc.edu/apply or call (336) 599-1181.

About TRIO:

PCC’s TRIO Educational opportunity Center (EOC) office  provides free counseling and information on college admission in 10 North Carolina Counties to help provide a smooth transition to higher education for prospective students. The team assists with the application process, financial aid options, basic financial planning, academic advising and more. The TRIO office is located in Building G, Room 208 on the College’s Person County Campus, 1715 College Drive in Roxboro.

With registration open for the Spring 2023 semester, PCC’s TRIO team is excited for the opportunity to help those who are ready to take the next step in their education and career. Find more information at  www.piedmontcc.edu/trio  or call (336) 599-1181.

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