First-generation Students

Students who are first in their families to attend college arrive at Columbia with the skills, inner resources, and ambition needed to be a great success here. However, for some first-generation students negotiating university life can be more challenging without the benefit of the knowledge and support that families with deeper roots in higher education can provide. For some there is the additional challenge of reconciling their cultures of origin with that of the university environment. All the professionals at Counseling and Psychological Services are dedicated to fostering personal wellness and development among students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Below you will find a list of our counselors and psychiatrists who may be especially good matches for students who are the first in their families to attend college. If your situation is urgent and a particular counselor with whom you would like to work is not immediately available, it is generally not wise to delay seeking assistance. Rather it is best to initiate treatment with a counselor who is more immediately available. You are always welcome to transfer to a different counselor at a later date.

Our psychiatrists focus on medication consultation and management. Upon first coming to us, students ordinarily meet with a social worker, psychologist, or postdoctoral psychology fellow. If together with your counselor you decide you would like to evaluate whether medication may be useful, you will then have the option of meeting with a psychiatrist, and may, if you like, request one of the psychiatrists listed below. Again, however, if your situation is urgent, we recommend you do not delay seeking psychiatric assistance.

Our Team

Being the first in family to attend college presents a multitude of unique circumstances and challenges. While exciting and empowering, it can also present struggles with issues of finding role models and mentors, raise questions about identities, potentially disrupt existing relationships and affect feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. When working with others who are first generation, Debra attends to how these issues are negotiated and how they influence emotional wellbeing in the context of academia, work and interpersonal relationships. Debra is fluent in Spanish.

Sadi is a first-generation college graduate who has experience working with the transition concerns and overwhelming feelings that can arise for first-generation students. She acknowledges the stress and hardship that can be experienced as a first-generation student and supports them using dynamic therapy with a focus on their unique cultural backgrounds and life experiences. 

Anne was the first in her family to attend college. Through her interactions with first-gen students on campus, Anne has developed a deep appreciation for the strengths, as well as the many challenges along the way, of being the first in one’s family to attend college. At Columbia, Anne has collaborated with student groups and administrators to provide opportunities for first gen students to connect with each other and to gain support through hearing what other first-in-family students have experienced. She is committed to maximizing access to resources for all students.

Saul has worked with first-generation students at Columbia in his role as a therapist, as a representative in our outreach efforts to the Columbia community, and in his work to develop and lead a support group for men of color. He recognizes that first-generation students can face unique challenges, and they often do so without the benefit of the knowledge and support that families with deeper roots in higher education can provide. Sául’s personal experiences and his ongoing work with this population motivate his desire to support first-generation students at Columbia interested in counseling services. Saul is fluent in Spanish.

Doreen is a first-generation immigrant who grew up in Taiwan and New York. She worked for many years in a mental health clinic in Chinatown helping children and adolescents and their families who had difficulties bridging cultural and generational differences. She understands the challenges many students face in reconciling their families and cultures of origin with the more mainstream American college culture. Doreen is fluent in Mandarin.

Ernesto was a first generation college graduate and has had the honor of working with other first generation college students throughout his career. He recognizes the importance of having support from mentors, educators, and family/friends while navigating the unique challenges of higher education for first generation college students. As a participant in the Ronald E. McNair Program, Ernesto was provided the opportunity and support while navigating his own journey in higher education. He finds the work with first generation students to be highly rewarding and hopes to create spaces where students can discuss their own experiences as they navigate the system of higher education.

Diana is a bilingual (Spanish/English), bicultural, first-generation college graduate. From her early work as a high school mentor to her years working at a large mental health clinic that primarily served recent immigrants, Diana has gained experience helping individuals navigate the transition and challenges that some students may face as first-generation college students. Diana recognizes the importance of providing each student with support that meets their needs while being respectful of their cultural context and identities.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Annette is a graduate of the Educational Opportunity Fund program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Soon after graduation, Annette worked for the EOF program for four years at Cumberland County College in South Jersey. She served as a career specialist encouraging first-generation high school and college students to pursue their lifelong goals. Annette finds her work with first generation college students incredibly fulfilling. She recognizes the unique challenges these students face and is aware of the profound difference having support can make in the lives of these students. Annette is fluent in Spanish.

Support Groups

From time to time, when there is student interest, we are pleased to offer support groups and other special programs for first-generation as well as undocumented students. We also welcome hearing from student groups who would like to partner with us in developing new programs to serve the FLIP community. Contact Associate Director for Outreach Anne Goldfield for more info.