Join the First Scholars Network!
Become a Network Member to transform your institution for first-gen student success.
First Scholars Network Member logo

First-gen Forward: What a GREAT Year!

Mona Y. Davenport, Eastern Illinois University / The Center / April 27, 2022

Eastern Illinois University First-generation college student program
Greetings from Charleston, Illinois!

First, let me share that 2021 was an awesome year for Eastern Illinois University (EIU). Because of our Enrollment Management team’s hard work, we were able to celebrate an overall enrollment increase at the University. And equally exciting—at least, to our phenomenal Office of Inclusion and Academic Engagement staff, anyway—EIU's dedication to our first-generation students was recognized! The magnitude of being selected as a First-gen Forward institution has been a phenomenal opportunity, allowing us to connect with resources and people to advance our thinking in how we serve students who are the first in their families to attend college. While EIU has a rich and proud history of serving this population, the increase in our enrollment numbers has challenged us to strategically recalibrate our approaches to connecting with and serving this population. As an institution that has seen a shift in who is coming to college, EIU stands poised and ready to support our diverse and ambitious population of first-generation college students.

Notably, Eastern Illinois University has a unique personal connection to our first-generation students. Our President, Dr. David Glassman and our Provost, Dr. Jay Gatrell, are both the first in their families to attend college. They have leveraged their experiences to empower our population of first-generation students, helping them understand that anything and everything is possible with the appropriate supports.

At EIU, 47.56% of our entire undergraduate population identify as first-generation. For that reason, we must remain vigilant in how we serve our first-gen students. Our TRIO Program has been a staple of the EIU campus since 1998. However, limitations on the number of first-gen students we are able to admit to TRIO can be challenging. While our TRIO services are available to any first-gen students, individualized support opportunities can be constrained. Even so, the students who do benefit from our TRIO services show us every day just how amazing they are.

EIU also recently focused on collaboratively developing a campaign to let students know how successful first-generation students can be using qualitative evidence—specifically, by sharing success stories from the people around them they see and interact with every day. Several of our own faculty, staff and administrators created videos, offered individual testimonies, and shared pictures of themselves and/or other family members who also were first in their families to attend college. As part of the campaign, our Student Affairs division created a webpage specifically with information on each staff member in the division who identify as first-gen, including emails for students to reach out.

Annually since 2018, our institution has celebrated National First-Generation Day on our campus and each of these celebrations have been extremely well received. This year, however, was even more significant for us. Because of First-gen Forward designation, we thought it would be relevant (not to mention very “on brand”) for us to celebrate First-Generation week. The students were excited, and we held several events to commemorate the success of our first-gen students and EIU’s enduring commitment to them.

We also should be sure to mention that we are finding that the monthly calls with our Midwest First-Gen Forward group are extraordinary and invaluable. We have an opportunity to share information and hear what other institutions are doing—and EVERYONE is so helpful and eager to share their own resources and ideas. As a result of those discussions, we collaborated with our Athletics staff this year to offer free snacks during a home women’s basketball game, we extended our annual First-gen Luncheon to an additional residence hall and welcomed participation from faculty, staff, and administrators. We had an Information Table and our inaugural “First Friday” event. And we even encouraged the creation of a new Recognized Student Organization (RSO) on campus composed of all first-generation students. All of these things together were just so much fun—the overall engagement and involvement was terrific and I truly believe that students on our campus know we are here for them.

After a great week and a new semester, our culminating event was the chartering of Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha) Honor Society, Epsilon Gamma Chapter on Sunday, April 4, 2022. The ceremony included students, parents and staff members congratulating the new members of our first-ever official First-gen organization on campus. Our graduating seniors who will be a part of our Office of OIAE/TRIO Graduation Recognition Ceremony will receive their official membership cords to wear during commencement.

It’s been a busy year, but undoubtedly a rewarding one. We are so grateful to NASPA and the Center for First-generation Student Success for the opportunity to help us shine even brighter in the years to come. With their assistance, what we do for our first-generation students on our campus will continue to grow. In the meantime, we’re honestly just so grateful to our 2021-22 Cohort for being the BEST team to work with… and for helping EIU be the best institution in can be for our treasured students. What a year!

For more information on Eastern Illinois University's approach, please visit their website here.