November 08, 2022 | Matt Kucinski

Ten students wearing
In November, a group of first-generation students gathered for a photo near Hiemenga Hall.

In 2022, Calvin University experienced significant growth in first-generation student enrollment, with more than a 20-percent increase year-over-year. This fall also marked the institution’s highest enrollment of first-generation students since 2018. First-Gen students are those who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree.

Learn more about the ways Calvin supports First-Gen students.

With November 8 marking the annual celebration of First-Gen students nationwide, we caught up with a few Calvin students who are trailblazers in their families.

Senior Ike Start (Hudsonville, Mich.), junior Audrey Johnson (Middleville, Mich.), and first-year students Aleigha Morris (Otsego, Mich.) and Yongxiang Xie (China) talked with News & Stories about their experiences at Calvin so far.

Why did you choose to come to Calvin? What was the tipping point?

Aleigha: It felt big enough, but also small enough. There’s really a good sense of community, and of course the Christian aspect … I toured a lot of places and I came here and I just knew it was a done deal.

Audrey: It was a good small community and every time I came to campus it felt like home and I had students interact with me and I had professors interact with me when I was here, so it just felt like there was already a sense of community when I wasn’t technically part of the community yet.

Ike: Finances was definitely the tipping point for me to choose Calvin. I am self-funding my own education. When coming to Calvin, Calvin was the most willing to negotiate, and so I did a lot of that so that I would be able to come here financially. So that [earned] big points for Calvin.

Yongxiang: I’m always looking for a Christian education, so that’s the main reason I chose Calvin.

What’s something that’s surprised you so far?

Aleigha: How personal I think the classes are, especially coming in as a freshman. You know there are lots of lecture halls on other campuses, and I feel my professors really care about me.

Audrey: I was just surprised how many First-Gen students Calvin has and how strong that community is [here].

Ike: Everyone is so friendly. Coming in I thought maybe it would be more competitive, but everyone is so friendly and how faith is used in the classroom is also something that is probably different from other universities for sure.

Yongxiang: I would say how beautiful Calvin is ... that’s what I am most enjoying about it.

How have you gotten involved and found community here?

Aleigha: I’m in the Dance Guild, which has been a really great experience. I absolutely love it. I also do Wellness in the Woods, which is an hour every single Tuesday where we just sit in nature and kind of let God speak through us.

Audrey: I work and am involved in a program called TRIO and that’s been a great experience for me, and they provide a lot of support for my years here. TRIO is a federally funded program that serves low-income students, students with disabilities, and First-Gen college students. And it provides resources like four-year planning and grad school and how to deal with finances, just how to be a student for a lot of people who don’t necessarily fit into the community right away.

Ike: I lived on campus for a while and I loved Homecoming and my favorite thing was the mattress racing, that was always fun. And basketball games, I love that. The community is great here. It's a small college so you get close with a lot of people. My biggest thing is sports, I love watching sports, Calvin sports are great, especially this fall they are doing amazing right now.

Yongxiang: The community is very friendly. I am a member of the Ministry Leadership Cohort. That’s very awesome. We have a nice community, we hang out with each other, we have church visits.

What do you love most about being here?

Aleigha: My friends. I have made some really great friends, some who are international students. I have actually had the pleasure to be able to bring them home on the weekends and show them my family and everything.

Audrey: I love all the people here. I meet new people every day. And so many people are from so many different backgrounds, and I think it’s just great that I can meet someone new every day here.

Ike: I’m a political science major. I think that the atmosphere regarding politics is much different than you would find at any other university. I think that Calvin University is very much in the center politically and respects all political views. So someone studying politics, especially during this era of politics where there is lots of controversy and polarization, Calvin brings the sides together to the center which I think in my personal opinion American tradition is to compromise and to come to the middle, so studying politics at Calvin you are really able to do that where at other universities you probably would not be able to.

Yongxiang: I would say the community here. Yeah, I didn’t expect people here to be that friendly. In orientation or when you are walking around there’s always some people saying hi to you, asking you about how you are doing.

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