First to Go, But Not Alone: First-Gen Celebration Week

Ashlee Young M.Ed., Assistant Director, University of Nebraska-Lincoln / The Center / November 15, 2019

University of Nebraska, Lincoln FGCC Grant

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we are working to make our campus more "first generation friendly" by developing links between first-generation college students and faculty and staff who share a similar life experience. Last November, was our first-time participating in National First-Generation College Celebration and it was a phenomenal success; we distributed over 400 t-shirts, stickers, and buttons within a 2-hour timeframe. In response to the momentum, the First-Generation Nebraska Advisory Board decided to expand our celebration. We thought, “Why have a day when you can have a week?”

Below is a recap of our inaugural First-Generation Celebration Week:

Monday, November 4, 2019

Welcome Message: University of Nebraska Chancellor Dr. Ronnie Green sent a first-generation recognition note to the entire university community, including within his message a reflection of his own first-gen story. Highlighting the importance of acknowledging first-generation experiences on our campus, Dr. Green invited faculty, staff, and students to participate in the week’s activities and our first ever crowdfunding campaign.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Crossing Borderlands Breakfast and Discussion: The First-Generation Nebraska Advisory Board hosted a professional development opportunity and working breakfast for university faculty and staff. A diverse student panel lent their expertise and insight to guests about the 1-in-4 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who identify as the first in their families to attend a four-year college or university.

First-Gen Stories Matter Workshop: Recognizing first-generation students are often unsure of how to share their first-gen story authentically, this workshop was born out of a desire to help students feel confident acknowledging the positive attributes of their first-gen experience as they begin to navigate professional, educational, and career pathways. This workshop was co-presented by three members of the First-Generation Nebraska Advisory Board.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Share a Meal: All first-gen undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff were invited to connect in an open house style networking lunch at our newest campus dining facility. Consistently one of our most popular events throughout the semester, over 250 guests sat down to fill up on tasty food and meaningful conversation.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

I’m First Coffee & Donuts: A sweet way to start the day, this networking social was hosted in partnership with the University Libraries. Dunkin Donuts offered to generously sponsor this event, providing caffeine and treats for several hundred guests.

Friday, November 8, 2019

First-Gen Celebration Day Fair: Filled with representatives from across campus eager to share their academic, career, and social support services, the First Gen Fair provided guests the chance to learn more about the resources available for first-gen students at the University of Nebraska. Held in a popular study spot within our student union, we hosted over 200 guests and gave away hundreds of t-shirts and pins. Popular stops included the “I am first-gen and I am…” intersectionality banner and our photobooth. To increase visibility about the first-generation community within our university, all guests were encouraged to post to their social media with the hashtag #firstgennebraska.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln FGCC Grant

Before our first-generation initiatives began in 2016, there were few opportunities to acknowledge first-gen identities on our campus. Now, when I see a first-generation student wearing a First Gen pin on their backpack, or when I walk by a faculty member with a pin saying “I Support First-Gen,” it is clear the campus has embraced this movement. As we look toward spring programming, it is our goal to build upon our success through “First-Gen Visibility Days” and continued social and networking opportunities.

During the First Gen Fair, I spoke with a faculty member who had no idea he qualified as first-generation. He thought because his sister went to college before him, he therefore was not first-gen. When I explained to him that he was in fact first-generation, he was thrilled to claim the identity.

In a post-program evaluation, one student told us she “realized she wasn’t completely alone” for the first time after attending and hearing other first-generation narratives. Both of these stories illuminate the reason we must continue to do this work.

Go Big Red!