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Breaking Barriers, Igniting Success: SPC’s First to Finished Week

Amber Estlund, St. Petersburg College / The Center / February 07, 2024

St. Petersburg College Photo Collage

As a large, multi-site, state college, centralizing efforts to launch a new initiative can be a challenge. However, St. Petersburg College (SPC) recently demonstrated just how important first-generation student success is as the college successfully hosted a week of events culminating on November 8th’s National First-Generation College Day. First to Finished, SPC’s first-generation student success group, brought together students, faculty, staff, and administrators from across the college and the county to raise awareness, showcase first-generation student support, and celebrate all first-generation students past and present.

On November 3rd, First to Finished kicked off their efforts with a faculty and staff mixer. The goal of this event was to de-stigmatize what it means to be first-generation by encouraging first-generation faculty and staff as well as first-generation allies to share their first-gen stories, network, and discuss how to better support SPC’s large first-generation population (approximately 14,000 students). With over twenty people in attendance, including three of SPC’s Vice Presidents, the mixer proved to be the perfect way to kick-off our celebration and demonstrated the institution’s desire to better serve our first-generation population.

The following Monday, First to Finished, in collaboration with Student Life & Leadership, hosted cake celebrations at each of the college’s five major learning sites. First-generation students and first-generation student allies were invited to stop by for a piece of cake and a free First to Finished t-shirt, featuring the #SPCFirstGen hashtag. Students were encouraged to wear their shirts and post to social media platforms on November 8th to participate in National First-Generation College Day. With over 500 participants, this event assisted First to Finished by familiarizing students with the resources the College provides, including a special first-generation honor cord when they graduate.

St. Petersburg College First-gen Cake
Tuesday featured a first-generation student night at an SPC men’s basketball game. Through a partnership with SPC Athletics, First to Finished celebrated first-generation students with Chick-fil-a sandwiches, t-shirts, and other swag while spreading school spirit by cheering the Titan basketball team to a victory. On Wednesday and Thursday, First to Finished partnered with two campus Phi Theta Kappa chapters to host events that celebrated the resiliency and determination that are characteristic of first-generation students. Students from the Tarpon Springs Alpha Zeta Tau chapter of Phi Theta Kappa collaborated with First to Finished to host a Visual Arts Show and Reception, featuring the work of first-generation art faculty member, Marjorie Green Graff. Antoinette Catalano, the Alpha Zeta Tau President reflected, “Our National First Gen Day event allowed our campus the opportunity to celebrate the inclusion and unity of our student body. I am grateful our chapter had a hand in celebrating such an important day for students like myself that have worked hard to be here.” On Thursday, the St.Pete/Gibbs Eta Nu chapter of Phi Theta Kappa hosted a screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Students were treated to popcorn, candy, and soda; after the screening, PTK officers facilitated a discussion with student attendees about the first-generation journey of Miles Morales as he crossed the Spider-Verse.

Overall, the week was well-received by the college community. Not only was First to Finished able to promote their efforts to ensure first-generation student success and celebrate National First-Generation College Day, but they were able to expand their work by forming cross-divisional partnerships across the expanse of their learning sites. Dr. Jamelle Connor, Vice-President of Student Affairs stated, “I am so proud of the leadership of our student affairs team, along with key individuals from academic affairs, as we elevate the first-generation student experience at St. Petersburg College. The celebrations surrounding national first-gen day aligned perfectly with our dedication to ensuring students feel welcome and supported both inside and outside of the classroom.” One thing is certain: all of St. Petersburg College is committed to advancing its support of its first-generation students to ensure their ultimate completion and success!  

For more information on St. Petersburg College's approach, please visit their website here.