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First-generation college graduate staff and faculty celebrate during 2019 orientation.

In 2019, the Jacques M. Littlefield Foundation renewed and expanded funding that helps first-generation students successfully complete their education.

The foundation’s multi-year gift enables the First Generation Initiative to hire interns—themselves first in their families to attend college—who provide a range of services for their fellow students. The new funding and an initial 2018 gift followed extensive due diligence and discussion within the foundation, encouraged by its president, David Littlefield.

Funding education became an ongoing priority for David Littlefield after he met Guatemalan elementary-school-aged children who were a part of Esperanza Juvenil, an organization that helps students complete post-secondary education.

It was transformational seeing the gratitude of children who might not otherwise have been able to go to school, he says.

“Kids are going to school from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and they just love it,” Littlefield says. “It was eye-opening. Creating an opportunity for someone who really wants to make the most of it is truly gratifying.”

The Jacques M. Littlefield Foundation, named for David Littlefield’s father, supports Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto and Downtown College Prep in San Jose (whose cofounder and executive director is alumna Jennifer Andaluz [Oakes ’94, American studies]). Both serve high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and nearly 100 percent of their students go on to attend college.

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Actress Adilah Barnes (Cowell ’72, individual major in black theater, Theater Arts Department) speaks at the First-Generation Initiative “Life Happens” event in April 2019.

The First Generation Initiative interns organize programs and offer help based on the research findings of Psychology Professor Rebecca Covarrubias, whose focus is identifying practices that support student success.

The interns spearheaded a series of talks at which students, staff, and faculty shared first-generation experiences, creating a sense of belonging. Because finding services is a challenge first-generation students commonly report, the interns also provide in-person guidance, connecting students with academic and financial assistance.

Intern Christina Yu is building an online resource for first-generation parents and guardians, including first-person narratives from other parents.

photo First Generation Initiative
Maria Diego (Oakes College ’22, human biology) and Bianca Del Toro (Merrill ’20, psychology) staff a First-Generation Initiative information table fall 2019.

“Parents have fears and concerns about sending their children to college,” says Yu (College Ten ‘20, cognitive science). “Listening to other parents’ experiences and knowing their child has support will help them feel hopeful.”

In addition, interns conduct an ongoing social media campaign, elevating the visibility of first-generation students, faculty, and staff.

“Highlighting first-generation narratives fosters connection and confidence among students with similar experiences,” Covarrubias says. “These stories offer diverse pathways for success.”

The Jacques M. Littlefield Foundation’s gift will fund the interns’ work for about three years. It is meant to also inspire other donors to help make the funding permanent.

“First-generation students deserve high-quality education to and through college,” David Littlefield says. “It feels rewarding to be there for people who want that chance.”