Jesse McCain, a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia School of Education, and Ivana Brancaccio (Class of 2022) are co-presidents of the First-Generation Graduate Student Coalition at UVA.

Originally posted on the Darden Report

The First-Generation Graduate Student Coalition (FGSC) is a newly founded student-run group aiming to relieve some of the unknowns for first-generation college students. Graduate school is an entirely new landscape for these students who have not had a parent attend a four-year institution, and FGSC is working to alleviate some of the resource and support gaps that are present.

The group was formed in 2020, and although there is a visible and active support system for undergraduate first-gen students, the founders recognized there was notably less emphasis given to the graduate student population, which represents over 9,000 students across UVA.

Jesse McCain, a Ph.D. student at the UVA School of Education and Human Development who studies inequality in higher education helped found the group last year. McCain shared, “As a first-generation student I knew this identity meant a lot to me, and that it brought with it some particular challenges, even at the graduate level. I would often meet other first-generation graduate students who were interested in sharing their stories and connecting with others, and that led to forming the coalition.”

The fledgling organization conducted a survey with 229 first-generation grad students to understand more about the needs and goals of the population they hoped to serve. Over one-quarter of the survey respondents were Darden students, and two Darden students currently sit on the organization’s board — including co-president Ivana Brancaccio (Class of 2022).

“All of these feelings many of us have had — figuring out how to finance your education, overcoming imposter syndrome and balancing the role you play at home. These feelings are still there when you step into a graduate position,” said Brancaccio, who worked as a communications director for U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen before Darden. “So recognizing that, and being able to serve the graduate student population at UVA, is an endeavor we’re excited to take up.”

On her perspective of an MBA, Brancaccio said, ““I think people see an MBA education as so valuable and so life-changing. It gives people the tools to do whatever they want. The people who I have talked to who are first-gen at Darden have incredible stories.”

Read the full story on the Darden Report.

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