First Gen Celebrations Spread Far and Wide in Third Year

November 11, 2019

For the third year, COE and NASPA Center for First-Generation Student Success asked college campuses around the nation to hold rallies, panel discussions, listening sessions, and more in recognition of their first-generation students.

Campuses again responded mightily with awareness-raising events featuring food (lots of cupcakes and pizza), t-shirts, tables, photo booths, stickers, buttons, games, performances, and campus conversations. "The swag is out of control!" said Sarah Whitley, director of the Center for First-Generation Student Success, in a National Public Radio story.

Many campus organizations this year scaled up their celebrations from a day to a week to recognize the realm of challenges and opportunities for first-generation students. Groups addressed topics such as stigma removal, networking, and appreciating first-gen role models that include campus alumnae, faculty, even college presidents. “I do think holistically, this event, this week, is very important,” Greg Ruckdaschel Iowa State career adviser told the Iowa State Daily. “And it’s not just here at Iowa State but nationally it is First Gen Week... I’m so happy to see it taking off and gaining traction.”

Here are just a few highlights from some of the other ways campuses celebrated:

  • Colorado Mesa University launched their World Famous Firsts campaign, honoring first-generation students among notable figures—Neil Armstrong, Amelia Earhart, Barack Obama, and Sandra Day O’Connor — all of whom who changed history. As CMU Public Relations director David Ludlom said on the campus website CMUnow, “When a first-generation student sets foot on a college campus, they might as well be setting foot on the moon. What was a giant leap for humankind is likewise an immeasurable leap forward for a first-generation college student seeking knowledge.” CMU also held a testimonial event of first-generation stories and campus-wide BBQ.
  • University of Georgia School of Law screened “First Generation,” the award-winning documentary about four high school students — an inner-city athlete, a small-town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer, and the daughter of migrant field workers — who set out to break the cycle of poverty by becoming first in their families to pursue a college education.
  • Colby College’s First-Generation-to-College/Low Income Program for Student Success (FLIPS) screened a video detailing the journey of student Misael Beltran-Guzman ’22. Students Jamya Brown, ’23, Azoya Clarke ’23 and Reagan Dennis ’23 performed a rap song. The trio wrote the song by using community norms decided by FLIPS students—be proactive rather than reactive; be inclusive never be intrusive; be accepting, honest, and respectful.
  • University of New Mexico’s UNM College Enrichment Program (CEP) partnered with the Office of Advising Strategies, UNM Valencia, the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), Student Support Services (SSS) and the Office of Student Affairs and encouraged the campus to participate year-round in several ways. For example, they ask first-gen faculty and advisers to share their first-gen experience, display “First-Gen Proud” cards on their desks, and submit letters of support and encouragement to hand out to current first-gen students.
  • During the week of activities sponsored by Texas Tech’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, along with University Housing, people wore stickers to show their support of first-gen students they know.
  • Among events that The Notre Dame Office of Student Enrichment sponsored are a week of events such as “Postcards of Encouragement,” and a talent show for first-generation and low-income students. Director of student enrichment Consuela Howell told The Observer that she hoped the events would shift public focus from what first-generation students lack to what they add to the campus community.
  • Baylor recognized first-generation students and their families at the women’s basketball game.
  • Iowa State students gathered for a presentation on what it means to be a first generation college student and how to network Wednesday for the “Networking for First Gen Students: An Important "‘Pizza’ the Puzzle” event.
  • In celebrating First-Gen Day, Missouri Southern State University students were surprised to hear that not only was the director of the TRIO Project Stay a first-gen student, but that MSSU president Alan Marble was too. Local affiliate news coverage of University of Texas El Paso’s event reported that UTEP president Heather Wilson is also first-generation.
  • Georgia Southern University started conversations, issuing buttons that read, “Ask Me Why I’m 1st”. Testimonials rolled on the TRIO Student Support Services page, along with a message from university president Kyle Marrero.

Discover even more of the events by searching #CelebrateFirstGen across social media!