First-Gen Success in a City of Firsts

Kelli Keener, Leda Casey, and Andrea Halpin, Indiana University Kokomo / The Center / March 10, 2024

Indiana University Kokomo first-gen student photo booth


Kokomo, Indiana is no stranger to first-generation success. Known as a “City of Firsts” for its numerous innovations in American industry, Kokomo is also home to Indiana University Kokomo (IU Kokomo), a regional campus that is putting a spotlight on first-generation college success.

About 34% of IU Kokomo’s students are first-generation and approximately a third of the faculty. Even Chancellor Mark Canada identifies as a first-generation college student and can empathize with the challenges they face. “A lot of first-generation students don’t think of college as a place they belong. I want our campus to feel like a place for them, where they will feel nurtured, empowered, and inspired,” says Canada (First Generation Students Find Success at IU Kokomo, 2023).


A lot of first-generation students don’t think of college as a place they belong. I want our campus to feel like a place for them, where they will feel nurtured, empowered, and inspired.

Starting Strong

Indiana University Kokomo first-gen panel speakers
In spring 2023, a campus-wide committee of first-generation champions gathered to build IU Kokomo’s Groups Scholars, a year-long, cohorted program that provides academic, financial, and social support to first-year students. Students who participate in the program complete two summer classes—one general education course and one college navigation course—before they launch fully into their first fall term. They are provided with their own laptop from the start of the program, ensuring access to vital campus resources and technical support. Most importantly, the summer experience offers ample time for community building with a caring group of faculty and staff who continue meeting with students in a mentoring capacity throughout the first year.

Groups Scholar participant, Alayna Coffy, shared: “I felt like I was nervous and anxious to start college because I didn’t know what my professors would be like,” she said. “I’m more at ease now because I know professors are just people like we are. My professors were really great, and they prepared me for what the college experience is like.” (Groups Scholars Program Sets Students up for College Success, 2023).

Celebrating Proudly

Indiana University Kokomo proudly supports the experiences of first-generation students. In its inaugural year, the IUK First-Generation Taskforce joined colleges and universities throughout the nation to participate in the National First-Generation College Celebration during the week of November 8th. The day is intended to celebrate the success and presence of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on campuses across the country.

Indiana University Kokomo first-gen photobooth student group
The IU Kokomo campus invited first-generation students, staff, faculty, and alumni to an afternoon of engagement activities which included food, photos, and a panel discussion. The IUK first-generation community had an opportunity to hear from fellow colleagues and peers regarding their college and career journey as a first-generation student. The First-Generation College Celebration was used as a catalyst for the university’s First-Generation Mentorship Program. All attendees were given an opportunity to learn more about the mentorship program and register as a mentor or mentee. We received an outpouring of support from faculty and staff ready and willing to serve as a mentor for students. The First-Generation Taskforce will use the spring 24 semester to pilot a small group of mentors and mentees with hopes of growing the program for the 24-25 academic year.

  • Groups Scholars program sets students up for college success. (2023, September 21). Resource.
  • First generation students find success at IU Kokomo. (2023, January 24). Resource.

For more information on Indiana University Kokomo's approach, please visit their website here.