Campuses Around the Country Celebrate First-Generation Students on November 8!

November 15, 2018

On November 8, 2018 — the 53rd Anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 — the Council for Opportunity in Education once again partnered with the Center for First-generation Student Success for the second annual First Generation College Celebration. The response to the first celebration in 2017 was so positive that it was decided to make it a yearly event.

COE asked college campuses around the nation to hold rallies, panel discussions, listening sessions, and more in recognition of their first-generation students. Here are just some of the events held in celebration of first-generation college students.

At California State University, Sacramento, students, faculty, staff, and community members were encouraged to participate in a day of activities across campus. Highlights of the day-long event included a first-generation resource fair featuring first-gen student support services, a breakfast reception, a photo booth, a brown bag session on teaching first-gen students, a First-Generation Graduate Student panel, and a closing reception.

The University of New Mexico-Albuquerque (UNM) held its First-Generation Celebration on Friday, November 9. The celebration featured students, staff and faculty who are first-generation sharing their success stories. The event was attended by Dr. Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dr. Tim Gutierrez, Associate Vice President of Student Services. The event was open to the entire campus.

The Student Support Services office held a campaign to pass out “F1RST GEN PROUD” buttons that were distributed to the academic advising community, Student Affairs offices and colleges within UNM. Buttons were given out at the local coffee merchant in their student union as well.

Boise State University’s Upward Bound project held a First-Generation College Celebration at Caldwell High School — one of the schools they serve. Educational specialist, Joshua Engler, thought it was important to hold the celebration at the high school to raise awareness and begin the important discussion with staff and students about what is means to be a first-generation college student.

The students planned the entire event, selecting the color (yellow to signify confidence, optimism, and success) and designing a logo. They collected statements from first-gen students (TRIO Upward Bound alumni) and first-gen staff at Caldwell High School. The statements were displayed throughout the school. The students also planned and moderated a discussion during lunch that included a panel of current college students and graduates who are first-generation.

At the University of Utah, the TRIO programs partnered with the Offices of Engagement and Undergraduate Studies to host a full week of festivities. The celebration started with a student, faculty, and staff panel that discussed the college going process, the experiences of first-gen college students in a large research university, and what it means to be a first-generation professional. The host departments sponsored a meet and greet with first-gen advocates and a student resource fair. The week ended with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Student Support Services program at the university with guest speakers COE President Emeritus Dr. Arnold Mitchem and Kathy Felker, founding TRIO director at the university.

Texas A&M University will be celebrating their first-generation college students throughout the month of November. Starting on November 8, #CelebrateFirstGen tables were set up in the Memorial Student Center where undergraduate research staff highlighted first-generation students and the strengths they bring to their pursuits in a companion social media campaign.

Students, faculty, and staff visiting the #CelebrateFirstGen tables could pick up a choice of fresh fruit and/or candy and a button to wear celebrating first-generation students at Texas A&M or proclaiming their own first-generation status. First-generation students could have their portraits taken with an Instax camera and see themselves added to the “We are First-Gen Aggies” poster.

The completed portrait boards will be on display in the university’s Sterling C. Evans Library until Thanksgiving break, accompanied by a curated display of books and other items created by first-generation authors and artists.

Colorado State University’s First Generation University Initiative (FGUI) held an event on the Lory Student Center Plaza to honor first-generation college students, complete with cookies, swag, a podcast, and fun photo opportunities. The FGUI is launching a new multi-year awareness and education campaign on campus to go with this year’s national first-gen day. The campaign includes “Proud to be First Gen” stickers, posters, and a new website — with information about the initiative, resources for faculty on mentoring and other tips for engaging first-gen students, and a call for faculty and staff to get involved. To listen to the podcast, please click here.

The University of South Dakota hosted a First-Generation College Celebration Day in the Muenster University Center. The event included drop-by button making with sayings like, “Proud to be First” and “I'm A First-Gen Coyote”, a photo booth, and cookie decorating station.

Students were able to engage with interactive displays regarding First-Generation trivia, write notes of encouragement, and contribute to building a brochure depicting the first-generation student experience by sharing their feedback. They also created “I Support First-Gen" window stickers that faculty/staff could put in their offices for students to know they are welcome in that space. Students who participated in a First-Gen "Did You Know" survey in the days preceding the event, were entered into a raffle to win a prize.

Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana hosted a weeklong celebration with a different event or activity each day. The goal was to raise awareness surrounding the first-generation student experience and challenges, as well as opportunities to help first-gen students feel included and embraced by the Ivy Tech community.

On Monday, November 5, the week kicked-off with an e-mail campaign featuring "1st Gen" stories and advice from previously interviewed first-generation faculty and staff. On Tuesday, November 6, there was a "Chalk Walk" where first-generation students were invited to write messages in chalk around campus offering helpful tips, words of encouragement, and motivational quotes for first-gen students. On Wednesday, November 7, the TRIO Leadership Council, a student organization, hosted an event featuring a first-gen student panel, lunch, and a resource fair of campus resources. On Thursday, November 8, the college partnered with TRIO programs at local four-year institutions to conduct a First-Gen Student Rally. First-generation students were invited to create signs and help raise awareness about the first-gen student experience. Finally, on Friday, the weeklong celebration ended with a small thank you luncheon for all participants. This served as a great opportunity for first-gen students, staff, and faculty to create a long-lasting relationship and bolster student support.

These are just some of many events honoring first-generation students that took place on or around November 8, 2018. To learn more about the First-Generation College Celebration, please click here and here. Also, use the hashtag #CelebrateFirstGen across social media to see how other college campuses took part in the celebration!