Celebrating First-gen at Tusculum University
Rachael Barnett M.A., Tusculum University / The Center / November 15, 2019
Tusculum University celebrated first-generation students the week of November 4-8, 2019, through a series of celebrations called First-gen Appreciation week.
First-generation students, alumni, and local leaders were invited to Tusculum’s three teaching locations to share their stories and provide inspiration and hope to current students, staff, and faculty. Each event concluded with students, faculty, and staff signing a board proclaiming they are “Proud to be First-gen.” Additionally, Dr. Greg Nelson, acting president, and Dr. Sherry Dellinger, dean of students, read a proclamation honoring Tusculum’s first-generation students.
Eliza Land Fink, a first-generation TRIO alum and current law school professor at the University of Tennessee, spoke to a crowd at the kickoff at the Greeneville, Tennessee, campus.
“I cannot underscore enough the importance of having someone there who believed in me and wanted to know what was going on in my life and wanted to support me in whatever way they possibly could,” she said.
Fink encouraged students to ask for help when they need it. “So please, take the opportunity when you can to make yourself vulnerable, receive help, ask for help and ask for the love that you deserve, which you will find here in your TRIO family.”
Peggy Brewer, an alum and member of Tusculum’s Alumni Executive Board, spoke during a celebration event in Morristown, Tennessee. “Neither of my parents went to college, nor did their brothers or sisters or any of my first cousins,” Brewer said. “My mother graduated from high school, and my father only had a second-grade education. He quit school in second grade because of a family tragedy and went to work at 8 years old. I encourage you to keep studying and continue working hard on your degree. As a result of my degree, I received two or three promotions at my job.”
Two additional events celebrated with adult learners, faculty, and staff in Knoxville, Tennessee. Speakers shared personal and emotional testimonies about their own experiences in higher education as first-generation students.
Current adult student, Shawn McClure said, “I went from a very close-minded and sheltered girl to a very confident and open-minded woman. My growth mindset skyrocketed from being a part of this university and the Student Support Services group. So many doors and opportunities have been opened for me that never would have been possible before.” Recent alum Polly Cowart said, “Every time I walked in the door, someone greeted me and told me, ‘You can do it.’ I learned to believe in myself, and I learned to believe that I was worth it.”
Another recent first-generation graduate, Chris Berney, shared that he would have never enrolled in graduate school if his TRIO Advisor, Shay Riggs, had not encouraged him and told him that a master’s degree would help him pursue his dream of becoming a college advisor.
Additional participants and speakers included Greeneville state representative David Hawk, Morristown City Councilwoman Kay Center, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Board of Trustees member Sanford Miller, and professor of business Derrick Proffitt.