Empower Me First works to motivate first-generation UM students at first in-person event since COVID-19

Empower Me First, a scholarship initiative for first-generation students at the University of Miami, welcomed motivational speaker and author Rockwell Bartoli to campus Monday, Nov. 8 for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration.

Students indulged in refreshments, donuts and coffee as they listened to advice from Bartoli, a first-generation college student that uses her story to motivate students at universities around the country.

Over 20% of UM students are the first in their families to attend a four-year university in the United States. Empower Me First is an academic initiative started by the Office of Academic Enhancement in order to help first-generation students better adjust to and succeed in college.

The program allows student ambassadors and university faculty to have conversations and one-on-one meetings with first-generation college students in an effort to aid them in their academic endeavors.

“We want to help them transition into college life and foster a sense of community and guide them through resources and academic support,” said Marian Pedreira, a senior majoring in neuroscience and a student ambassador for Empower Me First.

Pedreira said she was excited to introduce the program’s celebratory event on Monday, the first in-person event hosted by Empower Me First in almost two years.

“It’s really important for first-generation students to not lose sight of their dreams because of external pressures because they are the trailblazers of their families,” Pedreira said.

Bartoli led students through interactive activities in which they were tasked with drawing out their goals visually and explaining why they are pursuing their specific degrees.

“She empowered students to control that vision and be leaders in the community,” Pedreira said. “Everyone shared their perspectives and how being first-generation impacts them and how it has shaped them at UM.”

During the event, Bartoli urged students to take pride in their roles as their families first university attendee and to never feel embarrassed of being a first-generation student.

“I’m really proud to be a first-generation student,” said Cassandra Michel, a junior double majoring in psychology and community and applied psychological studies and the initiative’s lead student ambassador.

After the event, Bartoli gave out signed copies of her book “Success Habits.” Pedreira said Empower Me First plans on hosting more interactive events throughout the rest of the semester in an effort to encourage first-generation students to utilize the university’s resources during finals, something she says they often struggle with.

“There is a lot of imposter syndrome in using resources on campus and doubts on if it would even be useful,” Pedreira said. The Office of Academic Enhancement offers advising and support to all first-generation students.

“It helps a lot, not just for mentorship, but looking for applications, checking class schedules,” Pedreira said.“If you’re struggling with professors or financial aid, they can be the middle person that can connect you with the right person.”

As the university begins to relax COVID-19 protocols on campus, Pedreira said they are excited to continue hosting more in-person events despite the difficulty of rebuilding their attendance base.

“Now that we are back in person, students aren’t as committed,” Pedreira said. “It would be great to do more community building events with the provost and the president’s office.”