Photovoice exhibit showcases first-generation student experience

Photovoice winners with Dr. Marisa Pagnattaro at event.

(L –R: Kacie Geter, Kelly Medina, Nicholas Ghidu, Dr. Marisa Pagnattaro, Emily Beasley, Liz Keene, and Nimsy Corea Diaz)

Photovoice winners with Dr. Marisa Pagnattaro at event.

(L –R: Kacie Geter, Kelly Medina, Nicholas Ghidu, Dr. Marisa Pagnattaro, Emily Beasley, Liz Keene, and Nimsy Corea Diaz)

The Division of Academic Enhancement (DAE) hosted its first First-Generation College Student Photovoice Competition on February 8th. The goal for this event was to provide first-generation students with an opportunity for creativity, storytelling, and reflection. The competition culminated in a Photovoice Gallery held at the Georgia Museum of Art. This year’s competition theme was “1st at the 1st” where students were encouraged to submit a photo that signified their experience as a first-generation college student at the University of Georgia.  

Nicholas Ghidu, one of the Photovoice winners stated, “This was my first semester of my first year of college as a first-generation college student. Wow, a lot of firsts for me.”  

The DAE provides support to first-generation student year-round through workshops, a national celebration in November, and a graduation celebration in April. Their staff is passionate about fostering a welcoming environment that nurtures first-generation college student success.  

This event was sponsored in part by Synovus Bank. 

Read below to see the winning photos and captions. 

Sanford Stadium at dusk with Dawgs Win on jumbotron.Emily Beasley – 4th Year
Communications Studies
Caption: “Dawgs Win. Two simple words. These words can ignite a crowd of Georgia Bulldog fans, and fuel a stadium filled with happiness. These words have been shouted from my mouth every home game for the last four seasons that I have stood in Sanford Stadium cheering in the student section. These two words encompass so much of my time as a student at the University of Georgia and represent my dream that came true. The first time I visited the University of Georgia was over 10 years ago for a football game with my family. From the moment I stepped past the arch, I felt like I was home. I knew then that my dream was to one day attend UGA, but I thought it would always be that- a dream. Working three jobs while being a full-time student was never the goal, but so far it is what has gotten me so close to the goal. Many sleepless nights have been spent wondering what would happen if I failed even one class, which could result in scholarships lost and a dream being abandoned. Many students have these fears, but as a first-generation student, I felt the weight of these fears crushing me. Never knowing if I will ever receive my diploma after all the years of hard work frightens me, even today. I’m not sure it will ever feel as if I truly belong and there is not an imposter gazing back at me in the mirror. However, through much perseverance, I take a tiny step forward with each new day and achievement. I have found a community at the University of Georgia that I never imagined possible. I have found meaningful relationships with mentors through the UGA Mentor Program. I was able to see myself in young professionals excelling in their careers post-graduation, and I feel confident in my future. Seven semesters have come and gone in my collegiate journey—seven semesters filled with studying and exams, but also invaluable knowledge and precious memories. I have found a community that I will forever cherish. Although I entered my first semester of college feeling isolated as a first-generation student, I have found a community bigger than I could have ever imagined. A community that supports me and every other bulldog lucky enough to be a part of it. For me, “Dawgs Win” will always feel like I win.” 

Side of the Miller Learning Center with American and UGA flags in the wind.Nimsy Corea Diaz – 5th Year
Computer Systems Engineering
Caption: “Going into university, I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel the first night away. In one day, I went from seeing my family daily for most of my life to only during breaks. I remembered feeling devastated when my older brother went to college when I was 9, but now I was doing the same. I’m the second in my family to even attend a college in the United States. I’ll also be the first engineer. It’s hard navigating coursework, mental health, and college as a whole, but there is only looking forward. I just didn’t know how to do so alone.”




Girl looking over lake at sunset.Kacie Geter – 3rd Year
Journalism and Mass Communications
Caption: “1st of the first. First in my family to be titled valedictorian. First in my family to go to a 4-year college. First to visit San Francisco, California. In this photo, I am on Pier 39, located in San Francisco, watching the sunset in late April 2023. I was chosen as one of 12 students to partake in the Silicon Valley Trip with the Wealth & Development Program of UGA’s Black Business Student Association. The program allowed me to network with venture capitalists, business founders, and corporate executives. I visited tech companies like Apple, Google, Salesforce, and Jackson Square Ventures. I toured T25 MBA schools like Stanford and Berkeley Haas. Witnessing the academic environments of these prestigious institutions has reinforced that education is a powerful catalyst for personal and societal change. I’ve always sought out higher education. In high school, I knew college was not a choice nor an option–but rather imperative. As I will soon graduate from the esteemed University of Georgia, I am proud to say my educational journey isn’t stopping. In the coming years, I plan on pursuing an MBA focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation. I learned at a young age that in the pursuit of wisdom, ambitions are fed. In the tapestry of academia, I weave my thread. A first-generation tale, beautifully bold, I am a pioneer, a story yet untold. Many firsts have already happened, and many firsts to still come, In the dance of progress, my journey’s just begun.” 

Student with backpack holding sign Nicholas Ghidu – 2nd Year
Astro Physics
Caption: “First day of school, of the first day of college, while being the first generation to be in college. I had no idea what to expect in the year to come and I still think I wasn’t ready. To this day I still feel unprepared and fearful… although it was a major step in my life and I was willing to do my best so everyone I know will be proud in the end. I hoped and still hope that I will be proud of myself when the struggle comes to an end.” 





Collage on wall of thank you cards and post it notes.Liz Keene – 3rd Year
Communication Studies
Caption: “Pictured in the photo is a collage that I created using all of the mail that I have received from my friends and family during the past couple of years. Before I came to college here at UGA, my friends and I began writing each other mail to cheer one another up during the pandemic, and I began to collect it. Though the pandemic has thankfully ended, I still cherish all of the mail that I received and receive now, and I keep all of it. When I came to UGA, I often felt isolated from my friends and family as many first generation students do. I have since met wonderful friends at UGA that keep me from feeling isolated like I did freshman year, but whenever I am feeling sad or alone here, my mail serves as a physical reminder of my support system back home. This photo is of something that is intimate and personal to me and that I hold dearly, which is how I feel the first generation experience has been. This experience is unique to every first generation student, and I feel that knowing that is essential to understanding the “first gen experience”. There have been many highs and lows for me personally as a first generation student. Despite the challenges I have faced, I also hold my experience as a first generation student very dearly. I am thankful for the chance to attend UGA, and for the unique life experience and perspective that I can bring to the space and take away from my time here. This photo perfectly encapsulates the feeling of remembering where you came from and that you are loved even if you feel alone, which I think is something relatable to many people, especially first generation students. I hope that first generation viewers and non-first-generation viewers seeing my photograph think of their own support systems when viewing and that they enjoy this glimpse into what being first generation means to me.” 

Photo collage of college students.

Kelly Medina – 3rd Year
Social Work
Caption: “As a first-generation student pursuing post-secondary education, the beginning was a journey I feared. Unfamiliar with navigating the college admissions process, unfamiliar with navigating this entirely new journey, I felt incapable of succeeding at my dream to attend the University of Georgia. Thanks to the constant support from my family, middle and high school teachers, counselors, mentors, and so many others around me, I live my dream now. It was fascinating but also scary; at times, it seemed unattainable. Still, my dream became my reality. I became the first in my family ever to attend education beyond high school, and it was such a surreal moment when I began my first day at UGA. I was scared, anxious, excited, unfamiliar, and overwhelmed, but I was determined to make the best out of my experience here. This puzzle represents my experience as a first-generation at the University of Georgia. At the beginning of my journey here, I could see myself doing all these things and thriving here, but I could not figure out how to piece it together. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I felt millions of miles away from it. It seemed that no matter what I did, sometimes it felt like it was not enough. I had to constantly prove myself worthy of deserving a place here, that no matter what I did, I would always feel like an imposter. Disappointed that there was always going to be a missing puzzle piece left to find and, yet, the most complex piece to solve. What had started as a bumpy start began to turn into such beautiful moments in my life. The pieces of the puzzle that I could not figure out began to form this great collage of such beautiful moments in my few years of studying here. With this new journey came new experiences, new friendships, endless happy moments, moments of resilience, and accepting that although I might never find that missing puzzle piece, I will always try to make the best of my moments here and strive to be an inspiration to other first-generation students, other Latino students, and other children of immigrant students. It is okay not to have it all figured out; each day brings new experiences, and we all deserve to be here” 

Stairs with a backpack and water bottle left behind.Alex Wiggins – 1st Year
Caption: “Upon the steps of LeConte Hall, left by a first-generation student, lay an old bag and water bottle in the shade of a small tree. Moments prior, the student sat upon the railing not only reflecting upon the last four years of hard work spent getting him to where he is now, but looking forward to the four years of exciting adventures that are to follow.” 

Committed to students. Committed to success.

FAQs Give