ECU first generation college students give back

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2022

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A group of first generation or “First Gen” East Carolina University students came to the Outer Banks earlier this month to be inspired by historical firsts and to give back to the community through litter clean up.

Dr. Linda Campion helped to launch this program at ECU this year to help first generation college students be successful in school. The two-year program offers a scholarship, professional mentoring and other resources for incoming freshman who are the first in their families to attend college.

“We want them to learn about everything – to give them a sense of community, and give them everything they need to really become a Pirate,” she said.

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The program, just like the ECU motto, prioritizes service. Campion, a Manteo native and a first-generation college student herself, wanted to take her students to the Outer Banks partly so they could see a little bit of her life. “I used to work in the fish house in Wanchese. I made a big jump and had a very different trajectory. I wanted to bring these students here so hopefully they could see that trajectory, and also so I could give back to where I’m from.”

The service component involved first an educational program through the NC Coastal Federation in Wanchese, where students learned about how litter and toxins affect the marine ecosystem, followed by a trash cleanup near the boat ramp across from Pirate’s Cove and along the waterfront in Wanchese.

For example, students learned that Styrofoam can take 50 years decompose, and a plastic straw can take 200 years. “It was fascinating to learn about all this before the [service] project, to learn what they’re picking up,” Campion said.

The ECU students saved piles of litter from entering the waterways, and later went back through the bags to sort the litter and send the recyclables to a recycling center.

Student Jacey Hillman noted the length of time plastic and glass take to decompose and observed, “We need to do better with picking up after ourselves taking care of the environment.”

“If this litter goes into the ocean, it can effect water quality, marine life, and the ecosystem,” said ECU student Jordan Kearney, who is studying community and regional planning.

Kearney likes to do community service projects because “it feels good to be personally making impact – to bring awareness to a situation that people overlooked.”

Sommiya Brown agreed: “Service is important because we need to give back.” Brown applied to 26 colleges, was accepted to 16 and was offered $700,000 total in scholarships from all schools. She settled on ECU and was offered the First-Generation Pirate Scholarship. Brown is studying bio processing engineering and hopes to be an aerospace engineer.

For these young men and women, the program offers not only financial assistance but practical help on how to be a successful student. Hospitality management and marketing major Noah Presley admitted that “when you’re a first-generation college student, you don’t know the registration process, your parents don’t know the registration process. You have to figure a lot out on your own.”

Dylan Del Aguila agreed that he and his family needed a little guidance, too, when applying to college. Though he was interested in earning a scholarship, he said the whole process was stressful and he needed a little help.

ECU’s First-Generation Pirates program is designed to offer that extra little help. Not only from faculty and staff, but from other students as well.

Campion’s crew is learning the ropes this year, but next year they’ll be helping to interview incoming applicants, helping to set up the program and sharing input about what worked and what didn’t work. Service is central to the program.

And it’s clear to anyone that these students are motivated not just by a sincere joy in giving back, but also by the knowledge that they’re loved. Campion beamed when she spoke of her students. “Oh God I love them. They’re my kids,” she said. “I love all the students, but you have to pick a passion. These first generations are mine.”



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