Meet the Founders of the UConn Stamford First Gen Club, Veronica Paez-Deggeller & Abigail Ricketts

The UConn student population has a significant number of First Generation students currently enrolled, 50% at the Stamford Campus alone. With their own distinct challenges and adversities, First Generation students, Veronica Paez-Deggeller and Abigail Ricketts, formed the First Generation Club to build a stronger and more connected First Gen community and meet their struggles.

Tara Malone: Please introduce yourself — name, major, class year, current career aspirations, and anything else you’d like to share about your background.

Veronica Paez-Deggeller: Hi! I’m a Sociology major and finishing up my freshman year. I’m a first-generation college student, which means that neither of my parents attended a 4-year college and obtained a degree. My parents immigrated to the United States from Paraguay to give their children better educational opportunities.

Abigail Ricketts: Hi! I am a Psychological Sciences major from the class of 2024. As someone who has recently immigrated from Jamaica, I aim to take advantage of all the educational opportunities here at UConn as I aspire to become a Clinical Child Psychologist.

TM: In what ways have you been involved on campus and how have these experiences enriched your professional development?

AR: As a member of the Honors Program, I participated in their PATH mentorship program. I mentored a first-year honors student, providing guidance and support as she adjusted to the program and the university. These interactions helped to improve my leadership and communication skills. I was given the opportunity to make use of and enhance these skills as the Vice President of our new First-Generation Students club.

VP: As a commuter, I’ve found that getting involved was more difficult than I initially realized. However, I do my best to attend events that align with my schedule. One of my most fond memories of an on-campus activity was attending one of the Snack and Chats hosted by Brianna Walston in the Affinity Collaborative and Community Center on the Stamford Campus. She’s been an amazing supporter of our club!

TM: Tell us more about the First Gen Club?

AR: The First-Generation Students Club is a resource to students on our campus who may feel lost in their college journey, and in need of a place where they can not only find a supportive and understanding community but also find out about resources available to them on campus. As the first in their family to go to college, some students cannot receive guidance from their parents throughout this journey and are therefore disadvantaged compared to their peers whose parents can be a resource to them. As of Fall 2021, 50% of undergraduates on our campus identify as first-generation students. We hope to improve the college experience for this population. So far, we have hosted events with former first-gen student speakers, collaborated with other clubs for bigger events such as the First-Generation Panel event, organized an easily accessible document of scholarships, as well as made presentations about various topics including Finals Advice, Scholarship Advice, and Course Enrollment Tips.

TM: How did you come up with the idea to start this student club?

VP: In Fall 2021, I enrolled in Dr. Bunyan’s Introduction to Sociology course. Many of our class discussions related to our struggles as college students, especially as minorities and first-generation students. We discussed a range of topics, including high textbook prices, food insecurity, and difficulty locating student resources on campus. With Dr. Bunyan’s help, Abby and I started the First-Generation Students club aiming to provide a community for students, create awareness of campus resources, and cater to students’ needs for success.

TM: You are starting this organization on the UConn Stamford campus. Is this also available at other campuses? How can students get involved?

AR: There is a First-Generation Students Group on the UConn Storrs campus. It is a first-year program that provides support from professors, peers, or staff. They also have events and host panels that cater specifically to the needs of first-generation students, helping them to successfully navigate college. There is a lot more information about how UConn supports its First-Generation students here.  

VP: Personally, I have not been involved in any first-generation student organizations outside of UConn Stamford. I know that there are many resources available for first-generation students, including the Center for Career Development.

As for student involvement, anyone interested in being a member of our club can join our roster through our UConntact page. Once you join our roster, you will receive our club emails to stay updated on meetings, resources, and club information. We’re also on Instagram, @firstgenuconnstamford. We post updates on there as well!

TM: What are some of your goals for the First Gen Club?

AR: Our club aims to be a space that connects students, forming a community where students can identify with and relate to each other.

VP: We are currently expanding our leadership staff! We would like to become a Tier II club for the Fall 2022 semester so that we can have more freedom to hold events. Abby and I have great things planned, including a Welcome Reception for first-generation students and a celebration of National First-Generation Student Day in November. We would also like to host a FAFSA Application Guidance event, where students can bring in their FAFSA documents and receive help to submit their information. We are looking forward to our School Supplies Distribution Event, which has been pushed back to next semester. Overall, we want to establish a strong first-gen community for students.

TM: What advice do you have for students who are looking to start a student club or other leadership opportunities?

AR: I would advise students to ensure they become involved in an endeavor they are passionate about. Being a leader in any area requires hard work and dedication, so it helps when you are investing your time in a cause you believe in. Second, be willing to build relationships with and seek guidance from faculty and staff who will help you in your endeavors. 

VP: Find a faculty member who can support you on this journey and will share your club’s values. We’re very grateful to Dr. Bunyan for her support as we navigated club leadership. Tell your friends and classmates about your mission, as well; they might be more than happy to help! Contact Student Activities to figure out any other logistics. Gayle Riquier and Shona Evans have been extremely helpful in our journeys as club leaders as well. They’ll guide you through everything. Finally, know that you can reach out to us with any questions:

By Tara Malone
Tara Malone Associate Director, Regional Campuses Pronouns: she/her/hers