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Atlantic Cape’s Student Support Services Hosts Inaugural First-Generation Student Conference

04/24/2023 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
First Generation students listen to keynote speaker Terrence C. Jones

MAYS LANDING — Being first may sometimes elicit strong feelings of nervousness, anxiety and fear. From raising your hand first in class, standing at the front of the line or volunteering to be the first to speak before your peers are a few examples of taking initiative, showing courage and persevering. The same may be said for college students being the first in their family to make the leap into higher education.

Keynote speaker Terrence C. Jones speaks to college students at the inaugural First Generation Student ConferenceTo help foster relationships, encourage peer-to-peer dialogue and instill purposeful meaning to their academic journey, Atlantic Cape Community College’s Student Support Services hosted students from Camden County College and Rowan College of South Jersey at its inaugural First-Generation Student Conference on April 19 at the Mays Landing campus.

“Being a first-generation college student is a wonderful thing and anytime you can be first is a wonderful thing,” said Stacey Zacharoff, Atlantic Cape’s Senior Director for the Center for Student Success. “The family concept is essential to helping you manage your college career, so create opportunities to have those candid one-on-one conversations with your peers and create those bonds because they are a tool that is needed.”

Keynote speaker Terrence C. Jones brought an infectiously-positive demeanor to the Walter E. Edge Hall Theatre floor as he addressed the students regarding the prevalent issues and challenges in the lives of First-Generation students today.

College students taking part in a breakout session workshop during the First Generation Student ConferenceThe discussion began with a raucous group effort to encourage and influence a volunteer to blindly make her way to the stage. The divergent opinions on which way the volunteer should walk from the participating students was meant to mimic the myriad voices that a first-generation college student hears every day while making important decisions. On the second try, the volunteer was guided by a friend calmly helping her find her way to the stage successfully.

The message of the demonstration was for the students to know that they should “find somebody with a similar purpose in life to help guide your way,” Jones said. The volunteer admitted to feeling overwhelmed and anxious with the competing voices in the room, but felt calm and relaxed with a friend nearby.

Jones’ message to the students was to find purpose in their lives by avoiding burdensome distractions, such as social media platforms that exude negativity, peer pressure that negatively influences your decisions, normalized indifference that drains the positivity of everyday life and generated familial deficits that makes one feel cursed.

Stephanie Davies speaks to college students during the financial literacy workshopFour breakout session workshops that followed provided the students with professional advice from Atlantic Cape faculty and staff members in relevant topics, such as mental health, financial literacy, LinkedIn/social media and First-Gen with a disability.

The day wrapped up with a six-student “I’m First-Gen and Winning!” panel discussion moderated by Zacharoff, who asked a series of questions from “what were your expectations of going to college?” to “what have your experiences been like with your instructors?” to the students who provided tremendous insight into their everyday challenges and successes as a First-Generation student before those in attendance.

Rashawn Martin, Atlantic Cape’s Director of Student Support Services, spoke to the importance of the day’s activities.

“It was tremendous to bring Atlantic Cape’s faculty, staff and students together with all of these first-generation students from Camden County College and Rowan College of South Jersey in a setting that enabled them to connect, discover and exchange best practices that will help them thrive as scholars in higher education,” Martin said.

Moving forward, Atlantic Cape plans to continue offering this conference with additional professional and peer insight to First-Generation students throughout the area.

Visit for more information. View a photo gallery from the First-Generation Student Conference on Flickr here.

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About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape is a comprehensive two-year community college serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. The college offers over 40 career, transfer and workforce development programs to more than 8,000 students annually at three campuses in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Cape May Court House and Mays Landing.