First to Fly at Oglethorpe University

Lisa Conley Ed.D., Oglethorpe University / The Center / November 30, 2022

Student and staff member sitting at round table in glass enclosed space making buttons with a button maker

This journey at Oglethorpe University (OU) began with several departments working together. Last summer, colleagues Marisa Atencio, Ed.D., and Peter Dye of global education; Natasha Byrd, D.P.T., of student wellness; Lisa Conley, Ed.D., of career development, and Jolayna Palm of student success collaborated to submit a proposal for the NASPA First-Generation College Celebration Grant Opportunity. Oglethorpe University was one of 50 schools selected for the nationwide grant. Jessica Winestock, First-Generation Student Support Programs, and Grant Utter, our digital content creator with OU university communications, worked diligently to bring the idea from the grant proposal to life. Kaniya Freeman, a sophomore business administration major and first-generation student assistant with the Office of First-Generation Student Support Programs, worked with the digital content creator to photograph the campus community members that participated in the project.

On November 9, 2022, OU held our First-Generation Celebration. The theme for this event was “First to Fly,” which provided the perfect connection to our university mascot, the Stormy Petrel. Alumni, faculty, staff, and students attended the celebration, and First to Fly T-shirts, stickers, and buttons were available. The stickers provided a proud display for those who identify as first-gen. The celebration also presented an opportunity to highlight the recent Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant, which supports institutions like Oglethorpe that are dedicated to improving opportunities for all college students, regardless of background. This provided an opportunity to include our first-generation STEM students in the celebration. Dr. Laura Renee Chandler, Oglethorpe University’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, gave an inspiring keynote address about her experience as a first-generation student.

They may be the first to attend college, but it is our sincere hope that they will not be the last.

At Oglethorpe University, 40% of our students identify as first-generation. Additionally, a number of our staff and faculty members were first-generation students as well as our university president. As part of the celebration on November 9, a video was unveiled, conceived by Dr. Lisa Conley, director of career development, who is also first-generation. Each interviewee was asked, “How did you feel when you first arrived on campus, and what advice would you give first-generation students?” Angie Zaraza Gomez, a sophomore first-generation accounting major, was the behind-the-scenes interviewer for the project.

Students in the video spoke of the pressures of being the first in their families to attend college and how the expectations can be overwhelming and stressful. One student shared that “you are on your own,” something first-generation students understand well. OU President Nicholas Ladany said there was no shame in being uncertain. The video also included the Dean of the Hammack Business School, Dr. Stephen Craft, who shared that he felt he was not as prepared as he needed to be. Dr. Laura Renee Chandler encouraged students to get involved in everything, talk to professors, and take up space.

Ours is a small (but mighty), high-touch campus community. We hope that prospective and current students see the video and recognize there is a community of support here at OU that will help them thrive and have a sense of belonging. They may be the first to attend college, but it is our sincere hope that they will not be the last.

Oglethorpe University's 2022 First-Generation College Celebration was made possible by a $500 grant from the Center for First-generation Student Success and the Council for Opportunity in Education. Learn more about their celebration here!