More Than an Honor Society

Susannah Waldrop, University of South Carolina Upstate / The Center / April 23, 2024

University of South Carolina Upstate NM Blog faculty

Three years ago, we established a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha) on the University of South Carolina Upstate campus. This growing program has provided a mechanism for connecting with our first-generation students.

Recognizing Excellence

Tri-Alpha provides a way to celebrate our students and their achievements. To be inducted, first-generation students must have earned a minimum 3.2 grade point average and completed at least 30 credit hours. Each fall, we invite new inductees and their families to a ceremony where we can focus on their success. We also use this opportunity to highlight first-generation faculty and staff and invite them into membership. The ceremony is a memorable evening, and students often bring family members, including younger siblings, to witness their induction into the honor society. Each family’s sense of pride is evident in seeing their student excelling at school. It has become a tradition for families to stay and take lots of pictures in front of the Tri-Alpha backdrop, creating lasting memories of the event.

Building Leaders

Tri-Alpha is more than just a line on our students’ resumes. It's a space that allows students to develop their leadership skills and actively contribute to campus. Our chapter has dedicated officers who play a crucial role in planning and promoting programs throughout the year, providing valuable leadership experience to our members. Audria Chandler, the chapter advisor, stated:

First-generation students can serve in leadership roles that are invaluable to their professional development and personal growth. These skills prepare them for their careers and future advancement opportunities.

Cultivating Community and Support

The programs are not exclusive to members; we extend an invitation to all first-generation students. We understand that the college journey can be challenging, so we've created a nurturing environment within our chapter. Here, students can prosper and grow through mentorship programs, networking events, and peer support initiatives. Our events have included a first-generation faculty panel, a stress-relieving pizza and paint session, and professional networking and etiquette training. One of the most successful events of the 2023-24 academic year was the “Connect and Thrive” program. This program was part of our First-Generation celebration week. First-year, first-generation students were invited to mix and mingle with Tri-Alpha members. Over a casual dinner, members shared their college survival tips, followed by a question-and-answer session. It was a safe space where students could ask questions and discuss their concerns.

Looking Ahead

While we do not (yet) have a dedicated first-generation center, we will continue to invest in first-generation programming. The Tri-Alpha honor society connects and compliments other first-generation programs on campus, such as TRIO SSS and Avanzando Through College, a leadership program for first-generation and Latino students. These programs equip students with the skills, information, and support systems to identify student services, improve academic performance, and graduate college. Dr. Kim Purdy, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of University College, stated, “We are excited about continuing to develop relationships among first-generation students and first-generation faculty and staff at Upstate. We have made significant strides toward building a strong community where everyone is welcome and can thrive. The future for first-generation students at USC Upstate is brimming with promise and possibility.”

For more information on University of South Carolina Upstate's approach, please visit their website here.