Admission into college is a triumphant accomplishment for most, marking someone’s choice to grow intellectually beyond the requisites of compulsory education. This honor — seemingly more conventional than not — is often assumed a given, with many inadvertently taking the magnitude of a college degree for granted.
For some, though, college is not a given, an expectation or even an option, but rather an immense privilege. The latter rings true for the 17 percent of incoming CAS freshmen, and 1,200 CAS students in general, who as first-generation college students at NYU went above and beyond to achieve this accomplishment and privilege.
One such individual, CAS senior Jeremy Muhia, exemplifies what it means to be a first-generation college student. Hailing from Kenya, Muhia arrived in the U.S. with his mother at the age of eight.
His arrival to Birmingham, Alabama greenlit the arrival of a multitude of opportunities, but at a financial disadvantage. Gaining admission into the esteemed but costly Math and Science program of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Muhia persevered.
“I think one of my greatest successes is being at NYU in the first place,” Muhia said. “Throughout high school, I financially supported myself. ASFA was an amazing opportunity for me, but was an hour and a half commute… so I paid for my own gas money to go.”
Such financial limits, in addition to social limits, are differences Muhia began to notice between himself and non-first-generation college students when he arrived at NYU.
Financially, many of Muhia’s non-first-generation friends came to New York with ample support from their parents. To this day, however, Muhia pays out-of-pocket for everyday expenses such as food and housing — not out of necessity but out of selflessness.
“My parents barely have the money to hold everything down at home,” Muhia said. “I want to alleviate their financial burden by doing all that I can do to support my own self, so they can support themselves.”
Socially, his peers also seemed to be one step ahead of Muhia. As a first-generation student, Muhia forfeited much of the high school experience to better prepare for the unknown ahead of him.
“My mom understood that college was a new path for the family,” Muhia said. “A path no one could really carve out but me.”
These limitations were, however, limitless on Muhia who, by the halfway-mark of college, landed internships at American Express and Blue Apron. Now, in his final stretch, Muhia is in contention for entry-level positions at Airbnb and Microsoft, while recently being shortlisted for a software development position at Snapchat.
Muhia credits the wealth of resources at NYU with helping him cultivate and transition into his promising future. CAS’s cohort program, Wasserman Center, First-Year Residence Hall Programming and, most notably, Proud To Be First are at the center of Muhia’s foundation.
PTBF is a program within CAS aimed at the engagement and support of first-generation students through such programming like Proud To Be First Mentors and Advocates. PTBF Leader and Assistant Dean of New Students Sarah Beth Bailey hopes the program encourages students to be bold and confident, as well as inspires them to reach their goals.
“Since they are first in their families to attend college, they are pioneers, trailblazers and uniquely qualified for any opportunity,” Bailey said.
PTBF was fundamental in Muhia’s transition from first-generation American to next-generation software developer. Muhia is, indeed, proud to be first.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 5 print edition. Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected].