For sophomore Gabriella Booher, commuting each day to the University of Maryland is about more than earning a kinesiology degree. It’s about making a statement.

The Silver Spring, Md., resident, whose father was raised in Maryland and whose mother is from El Salvador, is the first in her family to go to college.

“They both have sacrificed basically everything,” Booher said of her parents. “I’d like to just prove to them and to myself that I can give back.”

UMD’s Academic Achievement Programs will recognize students like Booher tomorrow at the second annual #FearlessFirst First-generation College Student Celebration. From 11 a.m.–3 p.m. outside of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, first-generation students, faculty and staff will be invited to take a button or sticker, grab some hot chocolate or apple cider and fill in the blanks on two big canvas boards, answering, “I am the first in my family to …” and “Being the first means …”

Maryland’s event, part of a nationwide celebration introduced last year by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success, is sponsored by AAP, which administers seven UMD programs that provide advising, tutoring, counseling, academic skill enhancement and more to hundreds of undergraduates who are first-generation, low-income and from underrepresented groups.

“First-generation is sort of an invisible identity,” said Jerry Lewis, AAP executive director who was a first-generation student himself. Those students, who can’t talk to their parents about topics like transitioning from high school to college or declaring a major, often need extra encouragement and coaching, he said.

“AAP hopes to create a synergy around this first-generation identify where first-generation students are better supported campus-wide and can find a friendly face of faculty, staff or other students who better understand their experience as a first-to-go-to-college student,” Lewis said.

According to a report released last month by the Center for First-generation Student Success, a third of all college students in the United States are first-generation, but only 27 percent will earn a degree in four years. Identifying these students and fostering support and engagement can help, and #FearlessFirst is part of Maryland’s effort to do so, said Melanie Hayden Glover, associate director of Student Support Services (federal TRiO programs) in AAP.

Besides being the first in one’s family to attend college, #FearlessFirst celebrates other firsts as well, such as being the first to earn a graduate degree or the first to study abroad. While last year’s inaugural event focused mainly on students, this year’s encourages faculty and staff to share their experiences, too. Even if participants aren’t first-generation themselves, they can take a button or sticker to display in their office to show understanding and support.

“I think it’s just really important for students to know they’re not alone in this journey,” said Christal Dimas M.P.P. ’15, also a first-generation student and staff member who spearheaded AAP’s event last year. Dimas now works in the A. James Clark School of Engineering Office of Undergraduate Recruitment and Scholarships but is still passionate about the #FearlessFirst initiative.

Going forward, AAP hopes to partner with other units across campus, perhaps creating workshops to delve a little deeper and inform the UMD community about how to best support first-generation students.

“The idea behind the #FearlessFirst initiative is to bring awareness to this population, but the faculty and staff piece creates a much needed network for these student on campus.” Dimas said. “College is hard even for students who know exactly what they’re doing.”