Boston University is further committing itself to supporting first-generation students on campus through its Newbury Center, which is scheduled to open in January at 755 Commonwealth Avenue, University Provost Jean Morrison announced via email Tuesday.
The Center will act as a socially and logistically supportive community for BU’s first-generation students, and will be directed by Maria Erb, who is currently co-director of Diversity and Student Success at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Erb, a first-generation college graduate herself, has led projects aimed at supporting first-generation students, students of color and military-affiliated students at several universities. She said her top priorities upon coming to BU include creating partnerships across campus to support first-generation students.
“One of the most important things I think that we need to do at Boston University is really to elevate the visibility of its first-generation students,” Erb said. “It’s important to elevate and eliminate the stigma that might be felt by revealing that information and to celebrate first-generation student successes.”
Part of this elevation, Erb said, is recognizing the complexity of the first-generation community.
“It’s very important for me to recognize the intersectionality of identity,” Erb said. “Just being mindful that students bring such a host of diverse backgrounds and experiences to this one common identity.”
Erb said she is driven by the needs of students and plans to create a student advisory board to guide the Newbury Center in projects aligned with the needs of BU’s first-gen students.
“My philosophy is very student-centered,” Erb said. “I can’t implement programs without getting input from the students.”
Carlee Campuzano, a first-generation College of Communication senior, said as a freshman, she would’ve appreciated guidance in navigating the financial aspects of college.
“It was a bit of a culture shock to get to BU and realize that a lot of my peers have parents who are doctors or lawyers or very much not always first-gen,” Campuzano said.
Erb said providing information on college costs will be a pillar of her agenda, and the Center will help students understand, for example, how to factor books into college budgeting.
The Center will also focus on connecting first-generation students with scholarships, Study Abroad opportunities and internships, as well as providing support throughout these application processes.
Mia Cathell, a first-generation student and COM senior, said this focus on practical guidance through applications and career preparation is what she believes BU’s first-generation students need.
“For me, applying to financial aid was intimidating,” Cathell said. “As first-gen, our parents don’t have the knowledge to guide us on this, so it’s all just baptism by fire as a process.”
Raul Fernandez, associate dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, is a member of the Newbury Center planning group. He said he hopes the Center will provide the level of “personalized support” he wishes he had in college.
“Thinking back to my own experience as a first-gen student, when I came to BU as an undergrad, I really could’ve used some more folks looking in on me,” Fernandez said, “both supporting and challenging me.”
Fernandez said the Center has been in the works for two years and is funded by a $6-million donation from Newbury College, a private liberal arts institution that dissolved in 2019.
Erb said she believes the Center will have a resounding impact on not only first-generation students but the BU community as a whole.
“It’s not just giving somebody an advantage,” Erb said, “but rather these things will, in the end, benefit the whole student body.”
Campuzano said though she is “bummed” the Center is coming during her senior year, she is glad BU is providing a space for first-generation students to meet and support one another.
“I think this center will be a great place for first-gens to meet other first-gen students,” Campuzano said, “so that they know that they do belong here and that they’re not alone.”
Cathell also said the creation of a physical space on campus for first-generation students is important.
“That was exciting to see that there’s an actual place beyond the University Service Center that’s specifically for first-gen students,” Cathell said. “I think for people who are first-generation, that’s something that’s needed, a physical connection, more of a physical network.”
Erb said she is looking forward to building a network through the Newbury Center and that meeting people is at the top of her priorities, though this will pose a challenge in current times.
“One of the most important things for me, too, is establishing these relationships so that we can collaborate and partner across campus,” Erb said, “because one office can’t do everything for the University.”
*Mia Cathell was an associate city editor for The Daily Free Press during Fall of 2019. Cathell no longer works at the DFP.