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First Generation Week to celebrate pioneering students, faculty and staff

I support first generation students sticker design

First-generation students are those who become the first in their immediate family to earn a four-year degree. It’s a badge of honor, and for many, it’s a badge that’s hard-won.

Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO and Diversity Programs at WVU Tech, said that these students often face unique challenges in both getting into college and earning their degrees.

“Being a first-generation college student comes with a variety of barriers to overcome since you do not necessarily have access to information necessary to be successful on campus,” he said. 

While many first-generation students have the support of their parents or guardians, there’s often no one at home that can help them navigate the college experience. Research shows that these students tend to have less financially, are less academically ready for college and are less likely to complete their degrees without academic support.

They’re driven though, and with a bit of help, they’re capable of incredible things.

That’s why WVU Tech is hosting First Generation Week November 6-10. It’s an opportunity to recognize these students and the faculty and staff that help them along the way.

“Throughout First Generation Week, we will highlight our first-generation students, staff and faculty to share their stories and show that we have a powerful bond that crosses demographics,” said Robertson.

Faculty and staff will be able to wear stickers and post fliers outside of their offices to show their first-generation status or that they support first-generation students. (Employees should stop by or contact the TRIO SSS department at 304.929.1293 to request their First Generation Week stickers and signage.)

The University will also host a First Generation Celebration on November 9 at 12:30 p.m. in the library for the campus community to recognize first-generation students and graduates. It’s also a chance to learn more about first-generation initiatives, like those offered through federal TRIO programs.

“This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act, which led to the creation of TRIO programs nationwide, and it was the TRIO community that worked to have the term “first-generation” placed in legislation in the early 1980s,” said Robertson.

More than 60% of the student body at WVU Tech qualifies as first-generation or low-income, so the University has a number of programs in place to help these students. TRIO programs on campus include TRIO Upward Bound for high school students and TRIO Student Support Services for current WVU Tech students, which offers everything from scholarships to tutoring for first-generation and low-income students, as well as those with disabilities. WVU Tech also connects first-generation students with academic support through the Student Success Center and the Office of Accessibility Services.

“First-generation students come to campus with a lot of questions. They do not have a parent or guardian who understands the ins and outs of earning a college degree,” said Robertson. 

“We speak a unique language in higher education, and that is very intimidating. Learning that language takes time and making important connections can be hard because of their fear of being different than those peers who know where to go,” he said.

Robertson said that drawing first-generation faculty and staff into the conversation is an effort to help students visualize their own future.

“It allows for students to find mentors on campus. They will find out that their professors may have gone through similar experiences earning their degree. Some first-generation students may not even consider continuing their education because it is can be scary. Having someone who is a first-generation graduate with a Ph.D. can alter a student’s perspective of their future,” he said.

In conjunction with First Generation Week, the department of Financial Aid at Tech will be helping students complete the FAFSA for the next school year during “FAFSA Frenzy” each day of the week from 10 a.m. – noon and 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Participating students will be eligible for prizes throughout the week.

“Many of our first-generation students are eligible for the Pell Grant and Work Study. We want to make sure that they get access to these funds for the 2018-19 school year,” said Robertson.

First Generation Feature Stories: 

This is a weeklong series celebrating first-generation Golden Bears. They’re the first in their families to earn a four-year degree, and they’re the students, alumni, faculty and staff who are showing the world how one big first step can change everything.

Dr. Cynthia Hall’s road from first-gen to full-time faculty

How Tyesha White is solving the mysteries of college - and her career

The many lives of Tech tutor Phil Redden

How Tech grad Brianna Whaley is doing her part to heal her community