Creating THEE First-gen Box at THEE I Love

Mitchell M. Shears, Ed.D., Jackson State University / The Center / December 16, 2020

The 2020-2021 theme in the Office of Student Success at Jackson State University (JSU) is #creatingTHEEbox, and that’s just what the staff has been focused on. A major accomplishment of the unit was hosting its inaugural First-Generation Celebration Week. In creating THEE box, there are several tools that the team has identified. Collaboration was the tool that guided this year’s celebration. Collaboration with departments and units throughout the campus consisted of Title III HBCU Programs, Division of Academic Affairs, Division of Institutional Advancement, Enrollment Management, TRIO Student Support Services, Department of Public Safety, Student Affairs, and JSU Online. Additionally, virtual events designed to help first-generation students succeed and share experiences were held in collaboration with Southern University (SU) and A&M College in Baton Rouge, LA.

As for activities during the week, students participated in a number of exercises. Among them were two stress-relieving virtual JiggAerobics Fitness Sessions that went viral; insightful panel discussions; and a socially distant Patio Paint Kickback. Although there was a huge focus on students, the week-long celebration also celebrated faculty and staff who were first-generation students.

To kick-off the celebration week, the Division of Institutional Advancement assisted with a scholarship campaign where first-generation students were videoed telling their personal story and why supporting first-generation college students is important. Additionally, profiles of first-generation students, faculty, and staff were highlighted on Twitter (@JsuAdvisement) using the hashtags #JSUFirstGen and #CelebrateFirstGen. Also, departments and units across campus created collages to show their support to first-generation college students.

The Division of Academic Affairs hosted two JiggAerobics Fitness Sessions via Zoom and Facebook Live to help first-generation relieve stress from juggling academics among the pandemic. JiggAerobics, as seen on Shark Tank, is a dance-based fitness program that fuses "jigging," an energetic Louisiana dance style, with personal dance moves and numerous plyometric exercises. The founder of JiggAerobics Fitness, LaDonte Lotts, attended SU, while one of the Master Trainers, Taylor Akharume, currently attends JSU. Combined, the two sessions reached an audience of over 8.8K viewers.

The Virtual Celebration co-hosted by JSU and SU was held mid-week with a panel of first-generation graduates. Two were graduates of JSU and one was a staff member at SU. Panelists shared personal experiences as first-generation college students such as adjusting as a nontraditional student, receiving support from family, friends, and coworkers, and finding mentors and supporters across campus. Many participants commented that the event was emotional and powerful.

A virtual informational session for prospective first-generation students was hosted by the JSU Enrollment Management Unit. Participants were involved in a discussion about admission processes which included completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), understanding next steps, and how to adjust to university life.

To end the week, Student Success, TRIO Student Support Services, and Title III Programs co-hosted a socially distant Patio Paint Kickback for first-generation faculty, staff, and students. Participants, mainly students, were able to listen to music while artistically creating images on a canvas to depict what their future might look like.

Overall, Student Success at JSU is #creatingTHEEbox to assist first-generation students with getting enrolled and retaining them from semester to semester and year to year. As first-generation students are enrolled and retained, Student Success aims to provide opportunities for students to improve in their studies and their matriculation and provide whatever assistance they need. Lastly, Student Success is focused on bringing additional TRIO programs to build the pipeline of first-generation college students.

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