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Celebrating grads who bring vital perspective to campus

Northwestern hosts inaugural celebration of first-generation and/or lower-income students

For college students, the journey to graduation day is never easy, and no two paths are the same. But a group of Northwestern students who identify as first-generation, lower-income (FGLI) and/or undocumented/DACA share a bond — the special stamp they’ve left on the University community.

“These graduates bring vital perspective to campus, leading us all to rethink assumptions and privileges that are often taken for granted,” said Kourtney Cockrell, director of Student Enrichment Services at Northwestern. “FGLI students make Northwestern a better place through their intellectual curiosity, resourcefulness, ambition and compassion.”

On Friday, June 11, they will gather with family and friends for the University’s inaugural FGLI Graduation Celebration, which will highlight student voices, the Student Enrichment Services (SES) team and remarks from University leaders and alumni.

Register now for the virtual watch party, which begins at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

Comprising more than 20 percent of the Northwestern undergraduate population, FGLI students come to compete at the highest academic levels despite often missing out on the kind of support typically enjoyed by peers whose family and friends attended college before them, Cockrell said. The SES team works to uplift these students by leveraging their strengths and advocating for structural and policy change that will allow the FGLI community to thrive on campus.

Two of this year’s FGLI graduates are Izabela Stankiewicz and Obumneme Godson Osele.

Izabela Stankiewicz

Stankiewicz, originally from Poland, moved with her family to the Chicago area as a small child. She enrolled at Northwestern as a QuestBridge Scholar and eventually became a biomedical engineering major with a global health minor, all while pursuing the pre-med pathway. She plans to reconnect with her younger self when she returns to Poland this summer to spend time with extended family before applying to medical school.

Her parents, now living on a farm in southern Wisconsin, have supported her every step of the way, Stankiewicz said. In fact, they share her thirst for new knowledge. She recalled bringing home lessons in organic chemistry and then watching her mother learn how to make her own soap.

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Being FGLI means learning how to ask for help, take up space and create the future I was never promised.

Izabela Stankiewicz, Class of 2021

Since her first year, Stankiewicz has been a prolific — and published — researcher. She was honored this spring at the annual Undergraduate Research & Arts Expo for her presentation “Advances in Science and Engineering.” After graduation, she’ll be seeking opportunities in the field of medical device development and clinical research, with a focus on increasing financial accessibility to healthcare.

“Being FGLI means that I never stop learning,” she said. “Every day is a new opportunity for personal and academic growth, as well as a chance to demonstrate my resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s learning how to ask for help, take up space and create the future I was never promised.”

Obumneme Godson Osele

Osele calls Lagos, Nigeria, and Georgia his dual-home base. Having left his mother and siblings in northeast Atlanta, he also earned a Questbridge Scholarship to attend Northwestern and fulfill his dream of “building things.” 

He does just that in his engineering classes, but Osele also has been busy as a mentor, helping shape the experiences of fellow underrepresented students by advising them on a range of topics: how to survive the Engineering Analysis sequence, what resources are available on campus or even where to find a good suit for job interviews. Osele participated in an SES career development event called Suit Up, which took more than 100 FGLI students to JCPenney’s to purchase professional attire for summer internships and full-time jobs. 

From the start, he has been deeply involved in countless campus activities, such as the Melville and Jane Hodge EXCEL Scholars Program in the McCormick School of Engineering, the Black Mentorship Program, Social Justice Education in the Division of Student Affairs and the Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., through which he has helped lead the annual candlelight vigil on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past three years. He also has worked with students from Leo High School on Chicago’s South Side as they pursue their own college dreams.

Preparing to leave Northwestern with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s in mechanical engineering, Osele is headed to Stanford University to begin a Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering. 

“All of this ties back to why I came to Northwestern in the first place,” he said. “To me, FGLI is a significant weight. It’s a symbol of hope for my family name, an opportunity to break generational curses.

“While it can be difficult to navigate spaces without much guidance, at the end of the day what comes with being first-gen is having parents who worked their tails off. And that rubs off on you. I’ve always approached this as if I had no other option but to get here, succeed and help provide for my family. There is no Plan B.”

Student Enrichment Services

SES partners with FGLI students — pronounced figly — who are first-generation, lower-income, and/or DACA/Undocumented. SES works with these students to foster identity development, navigate campus resources, and build community. Through campus-wide partnerships and advocacy, SES strives to build an inclusive Northwestern community that is welcoming, supportive and accessible for all students.