Nivedita Lane remembered the feelings that accompanied her when she started her studies at York University.
She was a first generation student — the first in her family — to go to a higher learning institution. It was a new world for her.
“I didn’t really have anyone who knew what the experience was like to go to post-secondary,” Lane said. “It was definitely lonely. When you feel like that you also begin to feel intimidated because you’re doing something that your own family is unable to support you with.”
The disadvantage of not having anyone in their family who’s familiar with the post-secondary experience can be discouraging for some first-generation students.
“The motivation came more from myself than it did from my family,” said Nivedita Lane. “My parents would’ve wanted me to go college or university, however they weren’t in a position to help me, so the decision to go was mine.”
After graduating at York with a Honours Bachelor of Arts, History and Bachelor of Education, Intermediate-Senior. Lane began working in North Etobicoke at a local community agency and the Boys and Girls Club of Canada as the manager of youth education programs and youth services.
Her strong interest in seeing how high school students were doing once in post-secondary eventually led her to Humber College.
Lane is now the coordinator of many first-year programs at Humber North’s campus, where she prepares first year students for post-secondary education. Lane also coordinates seminars and workshops to help first-gen and first year experience students connect with the Humber community.
“You can walk around and be surrounded by people and not know anyone and that feeling is not a good one,” she said. “Our goal is to help first year students when they’re here.”
A 2011 Statistics Canada study “Intergenerational Education Mobility: University Completion in Relation to Parents’ Education Level” indicates families that didn’t have any family members who attended college or university was a significantly higher obstacle to higher education than family income.
Nivedita’s parents, Robert and Savitri Lane, could not financially help their daughter at the time of her enrollment. Nonetheless, they always provided emotional support, proven at times to be more important to post-secondary students, especially when their course load overwhelms them.
“The responsibility of paying for school was on her so we weren’t going to force her,” Savitri said. “I was happy and proud for her to get her degrees so she could have a better life and a better job than me.”
Knowing her parents were proud of her decision to attend post-secondary meant the world to Lane. She managed to fund most of her post-secondary education through scholarships and bursaries.
“Between working two jobs and getting good grades I was able to graduate school after five years and two degrees with no debt and I was really happy with that,” Lane said.
Humber North nursing and first-generation student Pallavi Shrestha said her parents were also happy when she decided to attend a post-secondary institution.
“I’m the first generation in my family to go to school,” Shrestha said. “My parents call me once a week to ask how I’m doing and to see how school is going. They’re really happy and proud of me.”
Mentoring students and helping them become aware of valuable life skills is something Lane has always been passionate about. Lane’s post-secondary experience as a first-gen student allowed her to draw on her past to help first-gen students get through their first year.
“I think if students participate in first year experience there’s no way they can get through their first year without knowing that things are here to help them,” Lane said. “Looking back at myself, having been a first-gen student, that would have been super helpful for me.”