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Investing in First-gen Success One Partnership and Program at a Time

Melanie Jones, M.Ed., Kent State University / The Center / April 13, 2022

Group of first-gen advocates in purple shirts smiling and posing

Kent State University has implemented a campus-wide approach to first-gen student success and engagement through the I AM FIRST program. What started as a small celebration that only included TRIO programs expanded to include Kent State's eight-campus system. Students, staff, and faculty engage in meaningful experiences and initiatives that:

  • raise awareness about what it means to be first-generation;

  • highlight the successes of first-generation students, staff, and faculty; and

  • encourage first-gen advocacy.

To keep these objectives at the forefront of the work and to coordinate campus events, the I AM FIRST committee, composed of both staff and faculty, helps to expand our reach to various audiences within the University. A few examples of the programs and target audiences are listed below. 

"It's in the Syllabus:" Crafting a Syllabus for First-generation Student Success.  This session for faculty, sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University, focused on the syllabus as an essential tool that communicates course policies and care and commitment to students and their learning. Furthermore, the session explored strategies that promote student engagement with the syllabus. 

These events...inspired us to think more deeply about ways to assist more students with participating in transformational experiences.

On the Kent State Tuscarawas campus, Dr. Jean Engohang, an associate professor of biology, led an interactive student session entitled, "From High School to College: Navigating the Transition." During the session, first-gen students and others learned strategies to help them navigate the transition between high school and college. Dr. Engohang referenced his own first-gen experiences and shared how he overcame some of the challenges he encountered throughout his first few years of college.     

To connect with our graduate student population, Kyle Reynolds, the director of graduate student services on the Kent Campus, coordinated the "First-Gen Scholar's Circle." The event provided space for first-gen graduate students, faculty, and staff to share their research and scholarship in a casual environment.  

These events and others inspired us to think more deeply about ways to assist more students with participating in transformational experiences such as these and others for graduation success. As a result, we participated in Kent States' largest Giving Tuesday campaign last November. The I AM FIRST scholarship campaign raised dollars to support first-gen students with tuition support, books, course supplies, study abroad experiences, research opportunities, and other valuable student experiences for graduation success. Generous donors within the University and beyond supported the campaign and helped us exceed our fundraising goal. As a result, more first-gen students will be able to make graduation happen.

For more information on Kent State University’s approach, please visit their website here.