Maria Dykema Erb Was a First-Generation Student. Now She’s Here to Help BU’s First-Gens

Newbury Center inaugural director: “I want to be the person I needed back then”

Maria Dykema Erb
Maria Dykema Erb, inaugural director of the Newbury Center, wants BU to support and celebrate first-generation students. Photo by Cydney Scott.

Maria Dykema Erb gets it. The embarrassment of wearing a food service uniform in the dining hall, serving meals to your classmates—and wishing you could hide. Seeing the Study Abroad posters on campus and counting yourself out without even asking questions, because you just know you could never afford a semester in Paris, London, or Rome. Not knowing that faculty office hours are an invitation to meet with your professor, that it’s okay to ask for help, that internships can help jump-start a career. All in all, the feeling of not belonging.

Erb knows what it’s like to be a first-generation college student because she was one herself. Now, as the inaugural director of Boston University’s Newbury Center for first-generation students, she’s here to tell you that you do belong at BU.

Born in South Korea, Erb was adopted by a Dutch couple who’d immigrated to the United States, had three children of their own, and ran a small dairy farm in northern Vermont. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1992, and 17 years later, married and with three children, earned a master’s in education at the University of Vermont while working there as assistant director of the ALANA (Asian, Latinx, African, and Native American) Student Center. One of five siblings, she is the first person in her family to have gone to college and the only one to have completed a four-year degree.

“Having been a first-gen student myself, I want to be the person I needed back then,” says Erb, who has more than 28 years of experience in diversity and inclusion work, student access, academic advising, and student life.

A support hub aimed at strengthening academic, social, and postgraduation success for first-gen students, the Newbury Center, at 755 Commonwealth Ave., between Marsh Chapel and Mugar Memorial Library, is in the heart of the Charles River Campus. Erb came to BU in December from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Graduate School, where she was codirector of diversity and student success and won national recognition for her work with first-gen students.

BU Today spoke with Erb about her vision for the Newbury Center, the strengths that first-gen students bring to campus, and how her own experience shapes her work.

Read the Q&As with Maria Dykema Erb on BU Today.