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First-generation CMU student forms RSO to provide outreach to high school students


Holland junior Alyssa Leal poses for a photo Oct. 14 in Moore Hall.

When Holland junior Alyssa Leal arrived at Central Michigan University, she felt lost and confused. After battling her way through the application process, she had no knowledge of resources or where to find help on campus. She couldn’t turn to her father for advice like she had done in the past, because Leal was the first in her family to go to college. 

Now, she is trying to prevent it from happening to anyone else. 

“I want to challenge myself, pave the way for things, and do something that no one in my family had ever done before,” Leal said. 

That's why she created Central Bridge, a registered student organization that reaches out to high school seniors who are going to be first-generation college students. The organization also intends to educate the campus community about the importance of understanding power, privilege and oppression. 

Leal was strongly influenced by the University of Michigan’s Big House Program. The Big House Program supports chosen minority students throughout the process of applying to U-M. With the Big House Program, she met high school students in February in Southwest Detroit to offer advice on transitioning to college. 

“I saw the way that these younger students' eyes just light up at thought of being the first people in their families to go to college. I remembered that about myself,” Leal said. “I knew I had to bring something like this to CMU.” 

Leal spearheads the organization with the help of Mimi Gonzalez-Barillas from The Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Gonzalez-Barillas is a CMU alumna and a first-generation college student. 

As an adviser for Central Bridge, she acts as the direct liaison between the student members and university administration. Gonzalez-Barillas said Central Bridge targets prospective students with marginalized identities, but students do not have to be minorities to join.

"I want Central Bridge to look like a driving organization begun by a student, continued by students, that welcomes new students," Gonzalez-Barillas said. "I'm excited to be a part of anything that brings people to campus."

Leal said she plans to start small by engaging high schools near her hometown and slowly expand to others in West Michigan. Similar to IMPACT and Leadership Safari, Central Bridge intends to invite prospective students to campus to be mentored by current students.

Leal said her organization is still in its preliminary stages but hopes for a quick rise in popularity.

"I hope that the generations stick together, and I hope that people have the same passion that I do," Leal said. "In five to 10 years, people who came here as a freshman will hopefully be running the organization."

Central Bridge will hold its next informational meeting 7-8 p.m Oct. 15 in the Bovee University Center Down Under Food Court. 

For more information, contact:

Alyssa Leal | President of Central Bridge

Mimi Gonzalaz-Barillas | Central Bridge Adviser