A Path to Centralization: Uniting First-gen Efforts to Expand First-gen Presence

Christina Bridges, M.S.W., Michigan State University / The Center / March 02, 2022

Lay of the land

Campus-wide efforts for first-gen students at Michigan State University (MSU) can be expanded in several ways. The university lacks a campus-wide identity for first-gen (hence my interest to seek membership in the First-gen Forward initiative). Faculty, staff, alumni–the first-gen identifier stretches beyond undergraduates. Applying for and earning the designation of First-gen Forward Institution in 2021 has garnered widespread discussion on the first-gen identity. Meanwhile, First-gen Forward Regional Community calls make apparent there is more to do institutionally to demonstrate greater support. I chose to advocate for a centralized first-gen website.

Knowing the Road Traveled

On a 5,300-acre campus hosting over 49,000 students in 200+ academic programs, information can get lost in the shuffle quickly. First-gen efforts are plentiful across campus, with various departmental initiatives providing support. Although plentiful, all resources aren’t advertised the same way to all students, and resources can feel siloed across our large campus. A centralized, first-gen website would be a useful conduit in bridging these efforts across the institution. A centralized website with MSU’s first-gen initiatives and staff in one location provides easier access to information for MSU’s 6,300+ first-gen Spartans, their families, and other contributors to their success.

Connecting Routes

Serving up to 600 students per year, TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) is one MSU program committed to building first-gen pride and community. We led a campus-wide effort in Fall 2021 to create a more visible first-gen community. We collected names of faculty and staff who also identify as first-gen students and allies. Staff provided their first-gen status (student or supporter) and preferences on where and how they wanted to support future efforts.

Marketing materials to showcase first-gen pride (e.g., office door placards, T-shirts, buttons) were later provided to the over 200 first-gen students, staff, and faculty interested in offering support. Some faculty and staff also participated in our TRIO social media highlight. This effort became part of our 2021 First-Generation Celebration Week in collaboration with the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU).

The celebration garnered support from some first-gen students, alumni, media, and many campus partners, but our reach could have extended further to more students and families. Increasing visibility, expanding student access to opportunities, and equipping first-gen families (“experiencing college” for the first time also) with relevant resources is key. It removes uncertainty and builds confidence in navigating the college experience. A website highlighting MSU first-gen resources helps to meet this objective.

MSU postdoctoral psychology resident, José E. Padilla Segarra, relates their first-gen experience as a tough but rewarding experience. Lansing State Journal author Zhou captured Jose’s sentiments:

It’s like breaking a cycle—you are breaking walls,” Segarra said. “It was a process of adapting…and you are creating a path with every step that you take. Being a first-gen student is very, very important, but not only for me because of this familiar [sic] context—how your parents are seeing you grow and [are] so happy because you’re taking new roads and that was also very powerful for me.

No Cruise Control

To continue building first-gen campus identity and community at MSU, strategic action is needed to centralize efforts and expand visibility. The first-gen website is a step in that direction, an intentional strategy to build alliances across MSU in our commitment to first-gen success. With a collection of donor funding provided to MSU’s Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative (NSSC) for broader first-gen support, the opportunity to create such a website for MSU is now a reality! I have a leading role with website development and continue to contribute to other first-gen efforts. Our new website centralizing MSU’s first-gen efforts will reach the first phase of completion by the end of Spring 2022.

For more information on Michigan State University’s approach, please visit their website here.