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First generation college student

Film inspires young minds to hope of college

A documentary film called “First Generation” is opening the eyes of young people who aim to be the first in their families to graduate from college.

September 29, 2015

Crowds of young people poured through the theater doors for the free showing of a movie. But the excitement and curiosity weren’t about the latest adventure film.

“First Generation” had come to town — an award-winning documentary film about four students seeking to break the cycle of poverty and become the first in their families to attend college.

Wells Fargo has sponsored showings of the film for more than 22,000 students, parents, teachers, and community leaders in recent years. (The company contributed a total of nearly $72 million to education programs in 2014 alone.)

“First Generation” has inspired the students who have viewed it, says Valeria Esparza, marketing program manager for Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, which collaborated with the film’s producers Adam and Jay Fenderson on last year’s Go College! Now 10-city tour.

“In every city, the response was just overwhelming,” says Valeria, who attended many of the showings. “The students really related to the film; they saw they weren’t alone in their journey. They realized there are so many resources out there to make their dream of going to college possible.”

Responding to the film’s popularity, Wells Fargo has now expanded “First Generation’s” outreach, launching an innovative bilingual web platform — www.gocollegenow.org — to meet the growing demand. The website features free online streaming of the film, and classroom resources to help educators, parents, and students navigate the path to college. In addition, the site includes an opportunity to join the conversation about college access and success by encouraging everyone to Take the Pledge in support of first-generation and low-income students.

The Go College! tour generated more than 2 million social media mentions and more than 1,400 new requests from teachers, students, nonprofits, and Wells Fargo team members to share the film with more students, says John Rasmussen, head of the Personal Lending Group, which includes Education Financial Services.

“The Go College! Now initiative allows us to broaden our reach to millions of first-generation and/or low-income students nationwide,” John says.

Wells Fargo and the production company — First Generation Films — also held “Go College! Day” on Sept. 24, which included more free showings across the U.S.; a social media pledge campaign; and a red carpet screening at the UCLA Community School. After the screening, attendees participated in a live-streaming Q&A with two of the film’s cast members, all of whom are now college graduates. Watch the Q&A at http://www.gocollegenow.org/go-college-day/.

“Today, half of all 21 million college students are first-generation students,” Valeria says. “We believe that it is imperative to help these students gain access to higher education, which will benefit our communities and help them grow successfully.”

Difference maker

There are already signs that the initiative is making a difference, as many who watched the film have set their sights on college, Valeria says.

Marsela Barajas calls the film nothing short of life-changing. Now a freshman at the University of California at Riverside, Marsela recalls attending the Go College! tour and seeing “First Generation” when she was a junior in high school in south central Los Angeles. It helped her realize that she could go to college, despite her family’s tough financial challenges.

“I saw what all those students in the film might be going through and how it reflected the communities that we live in,” she says. “It wasn’t just any documentary. It reflected students and how they have so many obstacles in their lives, but somehow still managed to end up going to college. It really motivated me.”

Many students from Marsela’s school in Los Angeles — the Community Service Public School — don’t go to college, says Lacey Hatfield, a teacher and advisor.

When the students saw “First Generation,” however, it was an immediate hit: “Our kids got really excited to see that these kids in the film were going to college,” Lacey says. “One of the kids in the film, Dante, grew up not far from here and he was able to fulfill his dream . . . so it showed our students they could really go somewhere.”

Seeing the reaction to the documentary has been a fulfilling and often emotional experience for Wells Fargo team members involved with the project.

Casey Galindo, a marketing relationship manager for Education Financial Services, describes a Q&A session after the first-sponsored film screening in San Antonio, Texas, which began the conversations for the Go College! tour sponsorship.

“You could just see the students had their eyes opened by the film,” she says. “They just had so many questions for the panel; it was exciting to see their minds open up to the possibility of going to college after all.”

Contributors: Richard Burnett
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