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First in the Family: First-generation Support at Indiana State University

Michele Soliz, Indiana State University / The Center / January 25, 2023

Staff selfie at Indiana State University

Indiana State University (ISU) is dedicated to teaching and the creation of knowledge while maintaining its longstanding commitment to inclusiveness, community and public service, and access to higher education. We are the state of Indiana’s university. 72% of our students come from Indiana, and 67% stay in Indiana after they graduate. ISU prides itself on educating a career-ready workforce, boasting the highest placement rate in the state of Indiana. Our placement rate for graduates in 2019 was 99% and the average starting salary was $57,593. We are providing life-changing opportunities for our students and we are serving the workforce needs of Indiana and beyond.

Rated the “Best in the Midwest” by the Princeton Review, “Top 3” in community service by Washington Monthly, and one of Forbes top American colleges for quality and value, ISU consistently holds these accolades for the last fourteen years. Welcoming the most culturally diverse student population from any four-year public institution in Indiana is a point of pride at ISU. The unique mission of Indiana State University leads to the success of our students and the pride of our alumni nationwide.

Nearly 50% of Indiana State University (ISU) students identify as first-generation. We recognize that in order to be successful, first-generation students need to feel that they belong at our institution, so ISU has developed several initiatives to support them.


• First-Generation College Student Celebration

• Project Success Program

• First in the Family Program


Graduation celebration at Indiana State University

In recognition of First-Generation Day, ISU hosted an initial First-Generation College Student Celebration on our campus in 2021. ISU hosted high school students from local high schools to expose them to postsecondary education and to the various resources available to help them be successful.

One of the key components of the celebration was a panel of speakers from different backgrounds with whom students could better connect. “It was a great, diverse panel,” said Matthew McClendon, Director of Diversity, Civility and International Program for the Vigo County School Corporation. “I think the panel gave a lot of different viewpoints on what some of these students' lifestyles may look like as a first-generation college student.”

“For first-generation students, they don’t get a lot of resources or they may not know of a lot of resources. It’s great for them to get the resources from others who are knowledgeable and who can help them make the next step to going to college and graduating,” McClendon said.


Project Success is a four-year program created to help first-generation students gain skills and experiences necessary for success at ISU. The primary focus of Project Success is to help students graduate in four years and gain rewarding employment post-graduation. Career readiness is essential to the ISU experience. In this process, Project Success students partner closely with the ISU Career Center all four years to develop skills that prepare them for their internships and future careers.

Project Success participants may choose to engage in a five-day bridge week program before the start of the semester to help them acclimate to campus, start building social and academic networks, learn about resources, and meet people who can help them on their academic journey. Bridge Week students participate in a living-learning community where students live on the same floor within a residence hall and are paired with another Project Success student. The floor is staffed by both a Residential Peer Mentor and a Resident Assistant to provide peer support during their first year inside and outside the classroom.

First-gen staff member at Indiana State University

Mentorship is a best practice that facilitates personal growth and provides a supportive environment for students. The First in the Family Program is a mentorship program that matches first-generation students with first-generation faculty and staff members who mentor students through their entire four years at ISU. Sumalayo Jackson, an ISU staff member wishes this program was available when she was a student.

“As a first-gen graduate, I didn’t have support programs on campus. I had to find my community to help me navigate through a very foreign process. The First in My Family mentorship program is a great opportunity to connect first gen students with campus and external resources necessary for a successful college transition”, said Jackson.

Laresha Johnson, Jackson’s mentee, shares her experience; “As a first-generation student, finding and using the resources available on campus was difficult. Coming to college, I didn’t have very many support systems that knew how to navigate college. It was important to me to find a mentor that looked like me and was willing to help me figure out my next steps after my undergrad achievements. The First in my Family Mentoring program helped me connect with a mentor that supported me and helped me find a master's program that was right for me”.


The recognition as a First-gen Forward campus has provided ISU with many resources including a support network. ISU is excited to add more programs and services that can help more first-generation students to be successful. These ideas include:

• First-generation faculty/staff affinity group

• First-generation social media channels

• First-generation reception at new student orientation

We look forward to our future connections and collaborations that will assist us in providing our first-generation students with a student experience that leads to a bright future.

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