Honoring the Journey

Perla Pinedo, Michelle Lee, Portland State University / The Center / November 09, 2022

Four first-generation college students at Portland State University

Portland State University (PSU) is the state’s Urban Research University and the city of Portland’s anchor institution. It is an institution with access in its DNA, beginning with its founding in Vanport as a place to educate returning veterans. Portland State University is the state’s most diverse institution, now majority BIPOC at the undergraduate level, with 46% first-generation and 51% pell eligible undergraduate degree-seeking students (Fall 2021).

At PSU, we celebrate that commitment to access to our first generation college students and our employees, who were the first in their families to go to college. At the end of Fall term 2022, the division of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Student Success and the Learning Center at Portland State University collaborated to host a series of three events to commemorate National First-Generation Celebration on campus during First-Gen Week. The events aimed to celebrate and affirm first-generation students, provide exposure to post-graduate first-gen professional experiences, and create a sense of community for first-gen students and professionals on our campus. Developing programs with this focus was important as we geared up to celebrate first-generation students. PSU staff, who provide holistic support to first-generation students, led the development of these events and recognized the need for more programming that prepares students for their next transition. This was our opportunity to elevate first-generation voices and pilot events centered on this outcome.

Michelle Lee, Coordinator of Asian, Pacific Islander & Desi Student Services and a programming lead says, “Sense of belonging and community are key to student success and retention. By being able to validate and affirm first-generation students on our campus, our events and programs strive to ensure that our first-generation students are not alone and have a community that includes faculty, staff, students, centers, and resources on campus that is here to support them!”

We began First-Generation Celebration Week with an opportunity for first-gen students, faculty and staff to connect, engage and network. As an urban-serving institution, building opportunities for first-generation students to establish community is essential to ensure students feel connected on campus. The office of Student Success, develops a yearly survey that captures the experiences of students at PSU. The first-generation student responses from this survey highlight making connections with students, faculty and staff as the top three categories that contribute to their sense of belonging.

Additionally, we also invited students to join college graduate panelists who shared their post-graduate first-generation experiences with current students. Lunch was provided and students were able to connect and network with professionals who shared similar backgrounds and experiences in their educational journey. The panelists shared advice, challenges and insights as first-generation professionals on what the transition from college to career was like for them.

Emanuel Magana, Assistant Director of Multicultural Retention Services, participated as a panelist and reflects, “It was a great opportunity to share my experiences as both a first-generation college student and first-generation professional. Often times, that transition from first-gen student to first-gen professional is not discussed, so I'm happy I was able to speak to those experiences.''

Our first-generation celebration week was certainly a success in building community and connections for students. Ultimately, we had over 100 attendees who participated in the planned events. As we continue to grow our first-generation programs, we certainly envision future possibilities to expand career focused programming that will lead to a thriving first-generation PSU alumni and community.

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