Explore the unique challenges faced by first-generation college students and the importance of dismantling barriers to provide equal opportunities for academic success and career achievement. Learn from personal experiences and insights that shed light on the injustices these students navigate and the broader impact on educational equity.
Join us as we delve into the extraordinary college journey of Lunessa, a tenacious OneGoal alum and current student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In this blog post, we examine the highs, lows, and transformative moments that have shaped Lunessa’s path, providing insights into the power of mentorships and resilience.
Lunessa had her mind set on two things: she wanted to be a nurse practitioner and to earn her college degree at an HBCU. She transferred to Brighton High School in Massachusetts in the middle of her junior year, and she heard that students participating in the school’s OneGoal program were planning an HBCU trip. She knew she wanted to be a part of it, so she joined the program and her postsecondary journey started.
Although her first choice for college was the HBCU Clark Atlanta University, the pandemic changed everything. At the time, Atlanta was considered a COVID hotspot. Because Lunessa is a type 1 diabetic, her mom was concerned for Lunessa’s health. So Lunessa ended up going to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to study biology instead.
Academic Challenges and Financial Aid Crisis
Transitioning from high school to college is a pivotal and often challenging phase in a student’s academic journey. Students encounter a myriad of challenges, ranging from the academic rigors of higher education to the newfound independence and responsibilities that college life demands. Navigating a larger and more diverse academic environment, they must adapt to different teaching styles, rigorous coursework, and increased expectations for self-directed learning. Additionally, the social dynamics of college can pose challenges as students forge new relationships, explore diverse perspectives, and grapple with the autonomy that comes with being away from the familiar structures of high school.
Lunessa faced academic challenges that tested her resilience. “Studying in high school was okay but not critical. If you didn’t study you could still find your way through it and get a good grade, but in college, by not studying, you’re taking a big risk. It is either fail or pass,” she admits. “I remember in my sophomore year, since I wasn’t that good at studying, every final exam was make or break my grade. I didn’t take it as seriously as I needed to. I still passed. But I passed to a level that was not my best. I could have done way better in my sophomore year.”
However, the true turning point came when she lost her financial aid due to a drop in grades. This critical moment prompted her to reevaluate her approach to academics. “At the end of my sophomore year, I was like, ok, Lunessa, what’s going on? You know, your major, it’s a very hard major, and you’re treating it like it’s not, so get it together.” Lunessa shared, “So, the whole summer, I still had that in the back of my mind telling myself, ‘junior year: stop playing around.’”
Recovery and Academic Resilience
The threat of losing financial aid served as a wake-up call. “That was the snap I needed; that was the alert I needed because they literally took everything away: housing, everything, all my scholarships, they completely took that from me,” Lunessa acknowledges. Determined to recover, she successfully appealed the decision. “I completely went to all As and Bs that semester because I wanted to study and prioritize,” she explains, highlighting the importance of understanding the consequences of academic choices.
Lunessa describes herself as outgoing and extroverted, and she has found support from college friends in her study group who are going through the same journey. College friends and group study sessions play a pivotal role in enhancing the academic experience, fostering a collaborative learning environment and aiding in overall personal development. Forming bonds with fellow students creates a support system that extends beyond the classroom. Group study sessions bring diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving, enriching the learning process. Beyond the academic benefits, the camaraderie developed during these sessions contributes to a positive social experience, helping students navigate the challenges of college life.
“Once junior year hit, that’s when real friendships and relationships grew,” Lunessa explains. “My study group are all now about to be seniors in the bio program. And we went through all the same worries together and all nighters together and being scared because we all want to do something in the healthcare world.”
She adds, “It was never a sense of me being by myself. I always had my friends from the study group. We always worried together, studied together, and any concerns we had, it was never just me alone. I feel like having a study group or having a support system, other people in your major, is so critical. Because no matter what major you do—you can be in STEM, you can be in business, you can be in anything—it’s going to be hard. College altogether, it’s just hard. There are obstacles every single step of the way. Still, as long as you have a support system other than family (and for me, my OneGoal Program Director and mentor Miss Taylor) with people going through the same thing as you, it’s a whole different type of support that everyone will benefit from.”
Lunessa’s college experience took a lively turn when she decided to join the campus dance team. This decision opened a new world of opportunities, allowing her to become deeply involved and expand her social connections.
“I feel like the last two years, I love meeting people everywhere I go and it’s fun talking to people. I became so involved. Before some people knew me, and now I feel like everyone knows me,” Lunessa shares, reflecting on the impact of her involvement beyond her major.
Leadership Roles and Campus Engagement
Drawing parallels with her OneGoal experience, Lunessa has embraced leadership roles on campus, such as her involvement with the Haitian American Student Association (HASA). “It’s like OneGoal. I would be helping out basically everybody. I just loved that,” she expresses. Younger students, from her major as well as others, come to her and ask her how she does it.
Her role as the chairwoman of HASA is a source of pride, and Lunessa looks forward to having her leadership role announced alongside her name at graduation.
Mentorship and Future Aspirations
As Lunessa reflects on her journey, she recognizes the importance of mentorship. “I feel like I just want to be able to be helpful in my community and more,” she shares. She now mentors younger students and emphasizes the significance of having a support system. Looking ahead, her plan is to enroll in a four-year direct-entry program to become a nurse practitioner, with aspirations to move to Atlanta for further studies.
Lunessa’s college journey is a testament to the transformative power of perseverance and community support. Through challenges and triumphs, she has emerged as an exemplar of resilience, highlighting the profound impact of mentorship in shaping her success. As Lunessa embarks on the next phase of her educational journey, her story can inspire others to navigate the complexities of college life.
In Lunessa’s words, “It’s like wow, I’m finally getting my experience.”