First Gen Summit: “An Empowered Journey”

The St. John’s University community is committed to connecting students and their families to all that we offer as an outstanding institution of higher education. The Summer at St. John’s: Explore and More initiative provides new and transfer students with opportunities to explore, discover, learn, and experience the excitement of our University.

As part of this initiative, the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Division of Special and Opportunity Programs invite you to join our First-Gen Summit, “An Empowered Journey.” 

About the First Gen Summit

This summit is geared toward incoming first-generation college students. First generation (first gen) is defined as a student whose parent(s)/guardian(s) have not completed a four-year college degree.  Our summit seeks to inform, connect, and empower first generation students who often have common experiences as the first person in their families to enroll and navigate a four-year college experience. 

The day includes small group activities, an engaging keynote, and an introduction to available resources. A first-generation panel discussion focuses on St. John’s students and alumni who have achieved their career goals, as well as on a few who are still navigating their quest to fulfill their personal and career aspirations.

Registration is required.

Summit Schedule

9–9:30 a.m.

Check-in, pick up your swag and summit materials, enjoy a continental breakfast, and begin building connections with other first-generation peers.

9:30 a.m.

Opening Remarks

9:45 a.m.Keynote presentation by Averie Bishop
10:30 a.m.Interactive Session
11 a.m.

Presentation: "Creating Connections" by Alexandra Marquez, Summit Cochair and Director of NY GEAR UP

This presentation explores the common experiences that first-generation students often share in their journey toward graduation.

11:40 a.m.Team-building activity
NoonSummer at St. John's BBQ on the Great Lawn
1 p.m.Raffle
1:15 p.m.

Presentation: "Resourcing Yourself for Success" by Monique Jernigan, Summit Cochair and Assistant Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Now that you have learned the common experiences of first-generation students, join us as we share resources and strategies.

2:00 p.m.

Career panel and Q&A with Elvira Garcia ‘20, Kevin James ’11 ‘13, Rovena Grisha '20, and Dr. Manuel L. Romero '22.

This diverse panel of current St. John’s students and alumni share their lived experiences as first-generation students across various majors, fields, and career paths. There will also be an opportunity to submit questions and engage with speakers. 

3:00 p.m.First Gen Networking Social
3:45–4 p.m.Raffle & Closing 

About the Keynote Speaker

Averie Bishop headshot

Ms. Bishop is a first-generation law student in her third year at Southern Methodist University (SMU). At SMU, she was President of the Asian American/ Pacific Islander Law Student Association and a closing argument tournament champion. 

Previously, Ms. Bishop worked at Susan G. Komen on contracts and intellectual property, advocated for victims of domestic abuse in the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women, and developed a user-friendly legal app for victims of human trafficking.

In the past year, she acquired almost a million followers across social media sharing innovative and informative content about law school. Today, she has since produced content and consulted for iconic companies such as Disney, Microsoft, and Lexus. She earned her B.A. with honors distinction in Human Rights and Sociology from SMU in 2019.

About the Career Panelists

Elvira Garcia poses for a picture in her cap and gown

Elvira Garcia ’20Ed (she/her/ella) is a proud graduate student and native New Yorker who identifies as Chicana (Mexican-American). In May of 2020, Elvira graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Childhood Education with a concentration in Sociology from St. John’s University’s Staten Island, NY, campus. She was a member of the President’s Society, the University’s highest honor, and the first generation in her family to graduate from college. 

Besides being a full-time student, she was involved in many activities both on and off campus. She served as a Student Ambassador, Catholic Scholar, Career Peer, Diversity Peer Educator, and R.I.S.E Network Mentor. Additionally, she held an internship every academic year. 

In her junior year, Elvira and her friends created a new Latinx club on campus called ¡D.A.L.E.! As Founder and Vice President, she was responsible for connecting with different student leaders on and off campus to execute student events. Connecting with other student leaders and creating a community on campus brought her joy. Currently, she is an M.A. candidate studying Higher Education and Student Affairs at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Photo of Kevin James sitting down, holding a coffee cup

Kevin T. James ’11C, ’13MBA is an Assistant Dean and Director of Fiscal and Administrative Affairs in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies at St. John’s University. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Mr. James is a double alumnus of St. John’s, earning his Bachelor of Arts in Government and Politics in 2011 and his M.B.A. in Executive Management in 2013. 

As a first-generation student and the first in his family to earn a college degree, Mr. James believes he has a unique responsibility to represent his family and inspire later generations to continue their education with the intention and goal of seeking social mobility. He firmly believes that while it is great to be a first-generation college student, we should do our best to ensure we are never the last generation to seek higher education. Mr. James’s commitment to education is so deep that he decided to pursue his Doctorate in Education from Johns Hopkins University. 

He focuses on implementing transformational changes at the University in his current role. Some of these transformational changes include cofounding the Design Factory alongside Luca Iandoli, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Global and Online Programs, and Associate Professor, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science. The Design Factory is the first innovation center at the University.

He also implemented digital workflow automation with Formstack, which helped introduce remote online advisement. This was used by more than 1,800 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Rovena Grishaj headshot

Ms. Grishaj was born and raised in Grishaj, a small village in Albania. After she carefully considered her options, she decided to move to New York and explore its many offerings. A first-generation student in a new country, she acknowledges that there have been many challenges, but says the experience has been worthwhile. She takes pride on breaking a generational cycle and focusing on her inner drive to succeed against all odds; sometimes it can feel like a lonely journey, but her motivation to persevere is strong. 

While working to pay for her education, she managed to graduate summa cum laude. During hertime at St. John’s, she traveled, volunteered, and attended leadership and networking events. She has held different positions related to research at both St. John’s and New York University.  

She currently works as a Financial Representative affiliated with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company  (MassMutual), and is a licensed Financial[AM1]  Advisor. Ms. Grishaj is dedicated to work with young professionals, families, and business owners to help them plan for their financial future and create generational wealth. Another passion of hers is writing; she is currently working on a book dedicated to her grandfather who spent nine years in a Communist prison. Besides writing, she also enjoys dancing and cooking in her spare time.

Manuel Romero Ed.D. headshot

Dr. Romero currently serves as Executive Director of Public Affairs at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), the largest college in the City University of New York system. He is an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, serving on various strategic committees and task forces to promote access to education for all students, especially those who have been minoritized. Most recently, his contributions helped BMCC be recognized as a top 10 finalist for the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

Before joining BMCC, Dr. Romero served as Director of Public Relations at Baruch College, where he developed and oversaw the college’s public relations strategies, as well as its initiatives to secure regional and national media coverage. Earlier roles included serving as Director of Communications and Marketing at Marymount Manhattan College, and as Associate Executive Director of New York City’s contemporary dance company, Parsons Dance

A product of the public community college system, Dr. Romero is a first-generation college student who was born and raised in Nogales, AZ, located on the border of Sonora, Mexico. Dr. Romero had always considered attending college, and through limited support from his high school counselor, he applied to Mesa Community College (MCC) in Mesa, AZ. 

Dr. Romero took initiative at MCC to meet mentors, professors, and staff members who educated him on how to navigate through higher education. He earned his associate’s degree from Mesa Community College, where he served as features editor of the Mesa Legend

After graduating, he then decided to transfer to Northern Arizona University (NAU), located in Flagstaff, AZ. He earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, and while attending NAU, he was also a member of Sigma Chi and served as editor of The Lumberjack

Dr. Romero later earned a master’s of Mass Communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. In April, he successfully defended his dissertation to earn his Ed.D. in Instructional Leadership from St. John’s University in Queens, NY.

About the Summit Cochairs

Monique Jernigan serves as the Assistant Vice President for Equity and Inclusion at St. John’s University. She identifies as a first-generation college-student. Originally from Indiana, Ms. Jernigan’s work and experiences have allowed her to navigate her way to New York to serve at St. John’s.  

The journey was not always easy; with the support of mentors, sponsors, and lifelong friends who are also first-generation college students, the love of her family, some hard work, and a little bit of elbow grease, it has been more than worth it. She has codeveloped this summit to ensure other first-gen students have access to the resources and support that she once benefited from and continue to benefit from to this day. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in general studies from Indiana University with minors in African American & Africana Diaspora Studies, Education, and Sociology, and her master’s degree in Student Affairs Higher Education from Indiana State University.  She can be reached at [email protected].

Alexandra Marquez headshot

Alexandra Marquez currently serves as the Director of the NYGEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program and has been at St. John’s University for the past four years. Prior to that, she was the Vice President of Youth & Education Services for over 13 years at a local non-profit organization. 

For almost two decades, she has implemented and overseen various school-based education programs which have all focused on providing support to students in underserved communities. As an educational advocate, she is passionate about ensuring that all students have equal access and opportunities to education. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology/sociology from Hunter College, her master’s degree in Education from Long Island University/CW Post, and in the fall, she will pursue her doctorate degree in Instructional Leadership at St. John’s. She can be reached at [email protected].