• Stronger Together

    The Pathway to a More Inclusive FGLI Community at UVA

  • Our Team

    Meet the Students Behind the Sunday 5 Page!

    Isaiah Brown

    Field Captain

    I am a third year, Kinesiology student. As a Quest Scholar here at UVA, I have been involved with a lot of the FGLI programs here at UVA. I was teh Mentorship Chair for Hoos First Look, I am the Vice Chair of internal relations for FLIP, and I am the outreach coordinator for Questbridge Exec. I want to help make things more transparent for FGLI students here at UVA, so I try to be involved in a lot and want to help build the FGLI community here at UVA


    Maame Esi Eghan


    I am a fourth year, Global Development Studies and French major. I participated in this class because I was motivated by the need to increase opportunities for the many FGLI students that UVA accepts. As a minority student, throughout my four years here, I have come to see that acceptance into UVA does not necessarily equate to inclusion especially, when one's financial and social status is not comparable to their peers. In my freetime, I work with the Office of Sustainability's Energy and Water team, working to raise awareness about energy and water consumption on Grounds and in Charlottesville. I also enjoy reading any French book I can get my hands on when I am not working!

    Nithin Seelan


    I am a second year student, planning on majoring in public policy. Coming to UVA as a first generation student, as well as a student of color, gave me a culture shock that I never expected and face challenges I would not have expected. However, by participating in this class, I learned that my experience is not unique and I learned how to address and overcome these challenges.

    Kalea Obermeyer


    I’m a fourth year student majoring in Youth and Social Innovation and minoring in Urban and Environmental Planning. As a low-income student myself, I’m passionate about providing opportunities for other first generation and/or low-income students to thrive at a University like UVA, in spaces that weren’t traditionally built for them to. When I’m not working with ProjFirstGen+, I’m helping with FLIP at UVA and PULSE, groups meant to sustain dialogue and normalize students having more meaningful conversations with peers about various aspects of their identity. I also love to make art!

  • What We Hope to Achieve

    An Inside Look at Our Focus Group Goals

    A Safe Space and a Welcoming Environment

    UVA has a growing population of first generation and low income students. However, multiple barriers prevent FGLI students from receiving the support they need:

    • Because the momentum to recognize the FGLI identity at UVA is fairly new, there are not a lot of existing resources for these students
    • For the resources that do exist: Because UVA academic and administrative departments work in silos (individually without much collaboration), resources are spread out across the University. Thus, there is no centralized digital or physical location where all FGLI resources are housed 
    • With a lack of "common-knowledge" resources at UVA, and essentially having an often "invisible" identity, the isolation FGLI students feel can be multiplied

    We want to provide first generation and/or low-income students with resources that they can utilize to ease some of their struggles, and provide allies with a platform to educate themselves about the FGLI identity as well. By creating a network through our focus groups (and this page), we can support one another and give voice to our shared experiences.

    A Better Understanding

    With a growing momentum to support first generation and/or low-income students at UVA, a lot of people are looking to learn more about the day-to-day experiences students have. However, these stories have not been documented thoroughly, and exist few and far between. Our focus group seeks to learn more about the experiences and struggles FGLI students face, and provide a space to document these shared experiences. As a result of our focus groups and detailed documentation, we hope to normalize the discussions around how students can better equip themselves to know about FGLI identities and what resources exist for FGLI students.

  • The Process

    What Exactly Did Our Team Do?



    In keeping in line with the purpose of the ProjFirstGen+ class purpose, which was to learn more about the experiences and struggles of first-generation and/or low-income students, we brainstormed as a team all of the possible themes and cross-cutting topics that one should focus on in order to better comprehend the FGLI experience.


    Being FGLI students ourselves, we were able to talk through our own stories to build consensus on which themes may be most relevant to students, as well as questions that were accessible; we wanted our questions to create a space for dialogue to occur naturally and where relationship building could thrive.


    The Focus Group

    Our themes were broken into three parts: Social and financial inclusion at UVA and the intersection between the two.


    In a span of two weeks, we conducted two focus groups lasting 75 minutes each, with a total of 13 students in both focus groups combined (the first focus group had four students, and the second had nine). In order to facilitate meaningful conversation and hear as many experiences as possible, we found that having a focus group as intimate as six or less was helpful. However, having a larger focus group did not seem to hinder students from sharing their stories.


    The demographics of our focus groups participants ranged from first years to fourth years; engineering majors to political science majors; students from a range of ethnicities and races.



    After conducting our two focus groups, we came together as a team and compiled students' stories into aggregate pieces. To note, personal experiences cannot always be accurately represented, nor is it possible to condense someone's entire experience into a single sentence (let alone 75 minute conversation).


    With this in mind, we pieced together various experiences that our participants offered in an attempt to understand the FGLI experience at UVA in regards to social and financial accessibility and the intersection of the two.

  • Core Questions

    The Questions that Guided our Social and Financial Themes


    Questions in Relation to Social Experiences


    1. ​How has your experience as a first-generation and/or low-income student affected your relationships with your peers and your social integration into the UVA community? 
    2. How do you navigate your relationships at home in relation to how you navigate your experiences at school?


    Questions in Relation to Financial Experiences

    1. What are some of the ways financial concerns or stress arise for you (if they do)? How does this impact your academic work? 
    2. If you have gotten a job since coming to UVA, what kind(s) of job(s) have you had and how did you find them? 
    3. If you've worked under federal work study, what was your experience in finding eligible opportunities? 


    Questions that Overlap Multiple Experiences

    1. As a first generation and/or low-income student, do you have concerns about your post-UVA future that you think are different from your continuing-generation or wealthier peers? How have you navigated these concerns? 
    2. A college education is supposed to be a source of economic mobility for FGLI students. Do you feel like your experiences at UVA are helping to level the playing field for your future success relative to your peers? 
    3. How has your FGLI identity empowered you? 
  • Main Findings

    Our Focus Group Sessions Found that Students Want a Community...

    • FGLI students tend to struggle with engaging in activities with friends, especially when it seems as though their peers have no trouble spending their money or their parents' money. FGLI students do not have the same financial security, so they tend to avoid social situations and hang out with those who are also relatively stingy with their money
    • A Relationship with community and family back home changes for the worst for many FGLI students. There is increased tension between parents and students, and some old friends are harder to connect with.


    “I feel like I have to come up with stupid excuses to get out of spending money”


    “Bothers me that I can't just go out with friends when they spend money”


    "What if I can't afford to come here next year?"


    "There's a big difference between jobs that people want and want to put on their resume vs doing jobs because you have to"

    • Having money upfront for services like parking, rent, study abroad, retreats, and many other things is nearly impossible for some FGLI students and loans aren't always the answer.
    •  Housing can be very difficult at UVA because most places fill up quickly before the end of the fall semester. This is especially difficult because of the wide economic gap of the students. This puts pressure on students to decide housing quickly and send in their security deposit as soon as possible.
    • UVA tries to subtract from grants/scholarships when outside scholarships are introduced. Very self supported and it’s hard to be when scholarships are taken away. 
    • Having to take out loans and budget for everything because UVA disperses scholarships/grants much later than financially comfortable

  • ...and they want a Stronger Support System from Higher-Ups

    • FGLI students either try extra hard to show up to networking events or they make no effort at all because they would not know how to make the connection. They realize that a lot of other students who may not be as qualified, were able to land certain opportunities because of their own personal connections or their parents connections.

      When it comes to internships, FGLI students seem to be very limited in getting them. They had to be paid internships and most often they must include housing for the summer. Many of the big name internships are unpaid, so they have to avoid them because they can't take the risk

      Future Endeavors

      “it's harder than it should be to find a job here”


      "I was so tempted to take my first internship offer because at least it’s an income. So happy to just have future employment and money"

      Other Findings

      • "I don’t want people to find out where I interned and I can’t show I’m struggling because they manifest more so in their stereotypes."



      Imposter Syndrome seems to unconsciously affect many FGLI students, so they may feel that they do not belong despite all of their successes. This ties into why FGLI students may isolate themselves from their peers because they feel like there is no one like them.

      However, this is ironic because there are so many others who feel this way and they are occupying the same space.

    • Translation into Action

      Where do we go from here?

      The FGLI identity is not a monolith, but there are similar patterns in student experiences

      Although every FGLI student's experience is different, per our rather intimate but diverse focus group, we were able to see that there is a similar pattern of financial insecurity, social anxiety, and fear associated with future endeavors that many of our participants shared. While many of these challenges might seem to be personal and not something that can be fixed at-scale on an administrative level, many of these issues stem from larger institutional gaps. UVA needs to do a more in-depth analysis of these experiences at a larger scale and work diligently to ensure that basic student needs are being met.

      Suggestions for UVA administration

      • Create an FGLI-designated space and administrative liaison 
      • Create a subsidy/fund for books/materials needed for class free for FGLI students separate from the AccessUVA refund to increase access for students on the margin of receiving full financial aid
      • Create a more universal housing opportunity for students, such as an off-Grounds housing subsidy. This can also include covering the security deposit and providing the option to take out loans so that the student will always have the ability to pay their rent.
      • Make opportunities like study abroad and/or scholarships for retreats more accessible to those who want to participate but cannot because of funds
      • Creating an FGLI -liaison in the Career Center. This will create opportunities for greater networking and post-graduation opportunities (such as hosting FGLI-only/primarily networking events)