Rya Brown sat at a high-top table in the Newcomb Hall dining room on Tuesday afternoon, enjoying her lunch and talking about all the things she hoped to do as a student at the University of Virginia beginning this fall.

Across the table, her parents, Rhasheida and Derek – who never attended college themselves – beamed.

“I’m fulfilling my dreams through her,” said Derek Davis, Rya’s stepfather. “She’s doing everything I wish I had done.”

Brown, from the Eastern Shore town of Bloxom, is one of many first-generation college students taking part in UVA’s summer orientation program, which kicked off this week and runs through August.

This fall, UVA will have a record 509 first-generation students, which represents 12.8% of the incoming first-year class, up from 11.1% last year. The number of first-generation students has increased in each of the last four years.

In addition, nearly 35% of the Class of 2023 will be composed of minority students, a figure that has risen four percentage points since 2014.

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For some incoming students, acclimation to UVA can take some time. That’s what makes summer orientation so valuable, according to orientation leader Casey Anglin.

“I loved my orientation experience,” said Anglin, a rising third-year nursing student from Virginia Beach. “It made me a lot more comfortable and excited about coming to UVA. I wanted to create that similar experience for someone else.”

Anglin met the person who has turned out to be her best friend at UVA on the first night of orientation, while dancing in a Zumba exercise class at the Aquatics and Fitness Center. “It was a really great way to start relationships,” she said.

Lily Roberts, an incoming first-year from Williamsburg, said the orientation experience has built on the good vibes she experienced at “Days on the Lawn” in the spring. It was there where she made the decision to choose UVA over the University of North Carolina and The College of William & Mary, where her mom teaches.

“I went to the exploring-the-arts session,” she said. “I heard about the dance and architecture programs and said, ‘OK, I’m coming here.’ I decided before I even left the session.”

Roberts said the most “impactful” part of Tuesday’s events was listening to orientation leaders discuss their experiences in a forum called “I Am UVA.”

Welcome to UVA Summer Orientation!

Introverted by nature, Brown said the program has helped her break the ice with her future classmates.

“Attending the orientation has really secured me,” Brown said. “I’m confident that I chose the right institution to pursue my education and begin the rest of my life.”

Students weren’t the only ones raving about the program.

“This has been very helpful for me,” said Edith Halbleib, whose son, Tom, is an incoming first-year from Louisville, Kentucky. “I think it’s really nice in how the school is giving the parents the tools to learn how to support their kids and let go.”

Brown said she is strongly considering a pre-med major. When her parents heard her say that, their smiles grew even larger.

Brown takes great pride in being the first person from her family to attend college. “This,” she said, “is a privilege.”

Here are some of the photos from the first orientation session:

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