My CAHNR Experience: Salma Gudaf, Mindfulness for First Gen Students

One CAHNR student shares her experience tackling stress as a First Generation student

Female student seated outside

Salma Gudaf, CAHNR '22. (Christie Wang/UConn Photo)

Salma Gudaf ’22 is majoring in allied health sciences within the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. She is part of the CAHNR Ambassadors program, a group of highly engaged students who promote and serve the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). Students in the program receive hands-on leadership experience through recruitment and other activities, like sharing their CAHNR Experience.


Being the oldest of four and the first in my immediate family to attend college full-time has definitely made me proud. I chose to attend UConn because of the variety of programs in the medical field and the distance to my hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. Someday, I would like to use the knowledge I’ve gained at UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) to serve communities where there is a lack of female providers of color. I hope to someday show others that your background should not hinder you from pursuing your aspirations.

Being an academic trailblazer in my family, an experience that many UConn students face, can also be difficult. Early on in my college experience, I found myself facing challenges that I had to navigate without a roadmap. From filling out forms for financial aid and student loans, everything was new and needed my attention. Luckily, I found people, clubs, and personal strategies that helped me learn to find balance and better handle the stress and anxiety that come from new experiences and responsibilities.

Know When to Ask for Help

For most overachieving students, the transition from high school to college may not have been difficult at first. Then you start to realize that you have to work harder to maintain the grades you’ve become accustomed to, and you find yourself fighting against the old joke: you can either have a social life or good grades, but not both. I’m here to tell you, with balance and a commitment to self-care, it’s possible to have both. If you can’t find time to see friends and complete your school work, it may be time for outside help.

For a while, I found myself not wanting to admit I needed help. I hesitated to call campus offices or use chat options for support. I believed that it was weakness to admit feeling overwhelmed, but in the end, it is the kindest thing I could have done for my wellbeing.

Finding the Right Support

I was fortunate to develop a close bond with my academic counselor within the Department of Allied Health Sciences, Cheryl O. Eckert, who provided me with continuous support and guidance. Finding a trusted adult to confide in was helpful especially during the shift to online classes during the pandemic. I think that being in CAHNR allows students to feel welcome in the paths they’ve chosen. Even if you’re a bit lost, you’ll find others with the same sentiment or with resource recommendations, like Professor Eckert.

There are also resources on campus that can help. Some people find that going to cultural centers provides a safety network of peers to rely on. Others join groups and clubs that fit their interests. One that I would recommend for first gen students is UConn First Generation Society. They provide workshops related to building a professional network on media platforms like LinkedIn, undergraduate research tips, and general information of signing up for classes. The Academic Achievement Center is also a great resource for those who need supplemental instruction, mentors, or tips for raising grades. SHAW- mental health also offers services for those who need either one-on-one or group counseling.

Checking in With Yourself

While I know stress is going to pop up from time to time, I’m now better able to recognize when it’s starting and take preventative actions. Engaging in mindfulness really helped me slow down when I was going too fast. Now when I feel tightness and a racing heart, I know that I’ve overstepped my boundaries and I need to destress by doing an activity that I enjoy.

No one technique works for everyone, but it is worth trying to find what works to raise your happiness. It’s not easy going to school full time. If you need a break, take it and come back recharged. If you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself why. It takes introspection and time to find what works, but eventually you’ll find it. From one student to another, remember to be more aware and give yourself credit for your accomplishments, no matter how small!

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