The annual Trailblazers: New Perspectives tri-campus conference for first-generation students took place on February 28 at St. George.
Twenty-three UTM students attended the conference, which consisted of first-generation students and current utmPLUS mentors and coaches from the “First in the Family” program.
Participants were invited to explore their identities, passions, and strengths through various workshops and speakers and had the opportunity to meet other first-generation students, mentors, alumni, and staff.
Four concurrent sessions were offered at the conference focusing on equity and inclusion, networking with alumni, and other topics. Each hourly session was led by two instructors who guided students through activities to help them understand the different aspects of being a first-generation student.
The instructors who led these sessions were first-generation alumni. The activities ranged from freestyle writing to conversations with alumni and interactive sessions where students could share their personal experiences.
The keynote was given by first-generation speaker Gloria Roheim McRae, the author of the Amazon bestseller BYOB: The Unapologetic Guide to Being Your Own Boss and the cofounder of Wedge15, a firm that has helped establish over 200 projects by providing digital strategies.
McRae shared her personal experiences with the students, describing how she was the first in her family to enter university and how her grades did not define her career.
She said she had worked at 21 jobs in three different countries before settling on her career.
“All of us are successful and unsuccessful—it just depends on what area of life you’re looking at. […] You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is a success to you, and you can have a lot of believers or naysayers, but either way, you’re the boss and you have to be unapologetic about it,” McRae said.
Various prizes were handed out throughout the day to the participants, including copies of McRae’s BYOB and gift cards.
U of T also offers the First in the Family program to first-generation students. At UTM, the program has recently started offering utmPLUS, a series of biweekly sessions for students to interact with upper-year first-generation students.