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Bowling Green State University Celebrates First-generation College Students

Nick Malendowski, Bowling Green State University / The Center / December 01, 2022

First-gen panelists with moderator at Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is a public university built for the public good. With our emphasis on finding a place to belong and defining a community of care, BGSU was named a 2021-2022 NASPA First-gen Forward institution. For this year’s National First-Generation Celebration Week, we wanted to emphasize students’ identity, finding a community of first-generation college students, and educating folks about what it means to be first-generation.

This year, we launched our first-generation essay contest–the first time we have ever sponsored an event like this. For this event, first-generation students could respond to one of a few prompts to offer their perspectives as a first-generation student: why they feel this identity is special to them, or write a letter to their pre-college selves about how being a first-generation college student has impacted their experience thus far. Students expressed feeling more and more proud of their first-generation identity, referencing various campus support offices that have aided them throughout their journey. Once submissions were received, they were sent to faculty and staff judges that identified as first-generation. Judges came from many different areas of campus, including academic departments like theater, film, and writing, as well as student affairs departments, including Life Design and Academic Investment in Math and Sciences (AIMS).

Having a support system can be monumental for students, and recognizing those support systems easily makes someone’s whole day!

The top three submissions were announced at our first event of first-generation celebration week, which was a faculty, staff, and student panel and mixer. The top three individuals were awarded gift cards for their submissions and were also given an opportunity to share a piece of their essay with folks in the audience. The panel was composed of faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students, offering attendees the experience to learn that we are all tied to this identity and that it shapes our experiences. Questions covered topics such as celebrating your first-gen identity; how their experience was unique; and engaging in conversations with folks who may not fully understand what being first-generation means. This was followed up with a chance for students and staff to connect with one another to build their community. It was clear that students were feeling proud about being in college while still holding this identity.

With First-Gen Celebration Week falling on an election day, we wanted to celebrate our First-Gen voters. Co-sponsored by Graduate Student Senate, we created stickers and had a station set up outside of our on-campus polling location. Staffing the table with first-generation college students, we were able to educate students on voting and create connections.

We wanted to emphasize students’ identity, finding a community of first-gen students, and educating folks about what it means to be first-gen.

Also on this day, we held a social event titled “First-Gen and a Friend." Going to an event alone can bring many emotions for students. To remedy this, we advertised this event as an event for all, whether first-gen or not. We had ice cream, games, and music playing. Students were able to engage in conversations about persevering through classes, the struggles of selecting majors, and ways that they’ve found community on campus. In addition to providing events for students, we also wanted to offer an educational experience for faculty and staff. This event began with a streamed presentation from NASPA's Center for First-generation Student Success focused on developing mission-driven first-generation student initiatives, followed by a conversation about how we can best support our students.

For our final event of the week, we tabled in our student union, giving students the chance to pick up a breakfast item and write a letter to recognize someone who has positively impacted their college experience thus far. Having a support system can be monumental for students, and recognizing those support systems easily makes someone’s whole day!

First-generation college students may experience many circumstances that their continuing generation peers don’t have to. Celebrating successes and building community is the least we can do to support our students. 

Bowling Green State University's 2022 First-Generation College Celebration was made possible by a $500 grant from the Center for First-generation Student Success and the Council for Opportunity in Education. Learn more about their celebration here!