Courtesy of @catholicutakeflight on Instagram
By Mariah Solis
Take Flight, a program designed to support first-generation students and anyone whose parents did not acquire a college degree in the United States, has grown exponentially since its launch in 2019. This year, Take Flight has a total of 60 participants from the class of 2026, making it the biggest group of incoming freshmen to join the program.
Take Flight is run by Natalí Maher, Assistant Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement (CCE), with the help of CCE Director Javier Bustamente. Take Flight started with roughly 25 freshmen four years ago but has since more than doubled in size.
Keeping in mind the common experiences first-generation students face, the program was designed to assist them with transitioning to college life. Being the first person in your family to go to college can present a unique set of challenges that can be quite daunting. This includes dealing with financial concerns, not knowing how to navigate the enrollment system, being unsure of how to find and use academic services. All the while, these students simultaneously deal with feelings of self-doubt, stress, as well as the notion that they are unequipped for college.
The most notable service offered by the Take Flight program is the three-day pre-orientation for freshmen right before the rest of the incoming class arrives on campus. During this pre-orientation, students participate in skill-building workshops, get advice from professors and staff, and go on a campus resource tour.
“It helped me because I learned what I’m gonna do, what’s expected of me, and how college is gonna be like,” freshman politics major Karla Vega-Guzman shared.
The workshops included tutorials for how to properly write emails and papers, ways to study, and even how to identify what type of learner you are. Additionally, the program helped students become familiar with campus resources and extracurriculars offered on campus.
“They prepared me with the tools that I didn’t even know I needed,” shared freshman nursing major Mercedes Garcia.
Something that really resonated with the students was the advice given to help them adjust to college life. The program discussed how to identify and deconstruct imposter syndrome, ways to increase self-esteem, and how to manage stress.
Vega-Guzman said the greatest obstacle the program helped her overcome was fear.
“I was crying at home wondering, ‘How am I gonna do it? I don’t know anybody. I don’t know anything.’ This was something new and I couldn’t ask for advice from my parents because I’m first-gen, so they never went to college,” Vega-Guzman said. “I think the staff just being there by our side and saying, ‘Hey, we’re always going to be here, our doors are always going to be open for you,’ really boosted my confidence.”
Take Flight offered several community bonding activities that allowed students to connect with one another, and also strengthen their relationship with the CCE staff.
Garcia recalled, “I was really apprehensive about making friends, so it was a way to ease me into that knowing that these people have similar experiences, and it eliminated that fear surrounding the whole newness of a university.” She continues reflecting on the community Take Flight gave her, saying, “Natalí is like a mentor and older sister to me that I can come to for anything.”
Vega-Guzman added, “I love when I’m in the CCE and then Natalí just comes out of her office and asks, ‘How is your day going?’ I feel like I haven’t felt homesick at all, but thankfully that just means I’m comfortable here and it feels like it’s home. I haven’t even completed my first year yet and I already feel like I have a family through the CCE.”
Take Flight takes this fellowship a step-further by pairing each new participant to a junior or senior first-gen student that can serve as a mentor for the remainder of the year. This serves as a way for the students to receive additional guidance and support.
Garcia mentioned her peer mentor saying, “We talked over coffee, and we texted all the time trying to set up a meeting date. She’s always been so kind and really attentive to me.”
Take Flight supports and encourages first-generation students at Catholic University in a way that has built such a strong community on campus, and it continues to grow every year.
“Natalí and Javier are great people and you can tell that they poured out their heart and soul into making this program as welcoming as they could,” Vega-Guzman said.