Students stand and serve themselves food from a buffet-style table while other students are seated around tables in the background eating and chatting in the ballroom at the Union.
First generation Michigan students get food at the First Gen Winter Community Dinner at the Michigan League Ballroom Wednesday. Grace Lahti/Daily. Buy this photo.

Conversation and laughter filled the Michigan League Ballroom Wednesday as more than 200 students settled in for the first-generation winter dinner. The First-Generation Student Program organized the dinner for undergraduate and graduate first-generation students at the University of Michigan. 

With approximately 4,000 first-generation students at the University, the program works to increase resource accessibility for first-generation students as well as build community among them.

Terra Molengraff, assistant director of First-Generation Student Program, told The Michigan Daily this was the first event the program put together for all first-generation students this academic year. She said the purpose of the event was to focus on community building among first-generation college students.

“First-generation students (are) very relationship based and, like all students, they really benefit from community,” Molengraff said. “This is a space that is dedicated to having students just get to know each other and share a little bit about their experiences.”

At the event, attendees enjoyed provided food, participated in group discussion questions, and played a human bingo game to facilitate student connections. The dinner also showcased a presentation from First-Generation College Students @ Michigan, a student organization that aims to support the goals of first-generation U-M students. The presentation spread awareness for the First Generation Student Gateway, a study and meeting space located in the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives in the Student Activities Building for all first-generation students and a place to access resources. 

LSA freshman Haylie Toth told The Daily she attended the dinner to surround herself with people who have similar experiences, especially regarding acclimating to college life.

“For me, at least, I had to figure out a lot on my own,” Toth said. “It just feels like a really welcoming space and just looking around and seeing everyone together and just talking and chatting … that’s really nice.”

As a first-generation student, Toth said her initial experience coming to the University of Michigan was different from that of most of her hometown peers. 

“At first, it was definitely kind of a culture shock in the sense of coming to such a big university because I come from a very small town … but I feel like I have definitely adjusted very quickly,” Toth said. “I love being around people and everyone here is so nice.”

Sitting at the same table, LSA freshman Ricardo Aquino-Gonzalez told The Daily his experience at the University as a first-generation college student was shaped by the Kessler Scholars program. Implemented at many college campuses across the country, the program connects first-generation college students to campus resources and the national Kessler Scholars community.

“(The Kessler Scholars program) definitely helped me because they gave me so many resources (of) what I could do at the school — like LSA Connect, the LSA Opportunity Hub — that we could utilize here,” Aquino-Gonzalez said. “I think that really helped me and I’m grateful for that.”

Aquino-Gonzalez said he enjoys coming to first-generation students’ events to connect with his peers and learn more about their different experiences. Aquino-Gonzalez said he believes the University puts on events such as these to make first-generation students feel more comfortable and help adjust to the University. 

“I feel like events like this (are) better because there are more people who are first-generation that aren’t in the (Kessler) program,” Aquino-Gonzalez said. “So I get to meet more people.”

The First-Generation Student Program has a history of student activism that has become intertwined with the University of Michigan and student organizations alike over time.

“This event (was) so cute,” Toth said. “I like how the University of Michigan has things like this because it just shows that they really think of all different calibers of a student.”

Daily Staff Reporter Natalie Anderson can be reached at