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Building at First-gen Coalition at Penn State

Denise Poole, Penn State University / The Center / April 26, 2023


Bowl of orange Penn State University first-gen program buttons

Penn State University is one of the largest public institutions in the country. The University has over 73,000 undergraduate students enrolled in its 21 undergraduate degree granting campuses. With 40,000 students enrolled at its University Park campus and nearly 24,000 enrolled at Commonwealth Campuses, and 9,000 pursuing their degree online through World Campus. The Student Success Center (SSC), wrapping up its fourth year of existence at the University, is based at University Park but has taken a lead on unifying the first-generation student success efforts that support the nearly 17,000 first-generation students across the University. This blog post highlights a few of the ways in which we are leading this work.

The SSC with the help of a University-wide planning committee held their second annual First-gen Student Support Summit on Wednesday, March 29. The event had over 400 registrants and included faculty, staff, administration, alumni, and students from Penn State’s 24 campuses and World Campus. The one-day event featured a hybrid morning kick-off that included a live streamed keynote address and provided an opportunity for networking and facilitated discussion. The SSC used a conference platform to offer registrants a cohesive event experience that included a robust agenda, a community board, event messaging, and engagement incentives. The event featured community voices, programs, and services aimed to support first-gen student success at Penn State. The event also featured an afternoon keynote speaker and ten programming sessions throughout the day that ranged from lectures, lightning talks, to student panels.

The SSC was honored to assume the role of official advisors for the First-gen Advocates student organization this year. In this role the SSC full-time staff provide guidance and advice to the executive leaders of the organization. The org, now in its fifth year of existence, has recently evolved from a graduate student organization (where members serve as mentors to undergraduates) to both a graduate and undergraduate organization. This year’s executive board under the leadership of senior Karissa Romanelli, focused on strengthening their foundation, enhancing visibility, and future growth. The org paused their mentorship program which had minimal engagement to focus on communication, marketing, partnerships, and leadership infrastructure. They recently launched a “college ambassador” leadership role which will allow emerging campus leaders to hone their leadership skills.

The SSC formed a University-wide First-gen Forward Advisory Council this year. The council is composed of colleagues and partners from campuses and academic and administrative units across Penn State’s campuses. The council has helped provide direction to our first-generation support initiatives. The council met monthly and discussed a wide range of topics that ranged from programming and events to access to first-generation student data.

We are looking forward to building upon our recent momentum. We are encouraged by our progress and excited for further possibilities. Penn State is amidst a time of great transition and restricted resources. It is through partnerships and creative solutions that we will navigate this challenging time and help create a stronger infrastructure for our future! 


For more information on Penn State University's approach, please visit their website here.