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Nevada State Celebrates First-Generation Students

Edith Fernández Ph.D., Nevada State College / The Center / October 26, 2022


First-gen program logo with scorpion

This fall, Welcome Back Week took on a fresh, fiercer feel. In recognition of its first-generation student efforts, Nevada State College introduced First & Fierce, which included celebratory “I am First & Fierce” buttons, a community social, and social media posts.

However, First & Fierce isn’t only reserved for kicking off the academic year. It’s a permanent Nevada State fixture to support first-generation students — who make up more than half of the student body — through specialized advising, career guidance, mentorship, and other key programs.

“Nevada State College is fueled by first-generation students,” says Edith Fernandez, Ph.D., vice president, Division of Culture, Planning & Policy. “We’ve always served those students, and we are so proud that 55% of our students are first-generation. I think that’s something to make sure everybody knows.”

Enter First & Fierce, which serves as an identifier for the college’s first-generation efforts and its growing first-generation student population. In fact, that segment of students has grown so much that President DeRionne Pollard, Ph.D., calls it “the new majority.”

“President Pollard defines the ‘new majority’ as first-generation students, adult learners, students of color, immigrants, and anyone who is looking to find their way out of poverty and into a solid, middle-class existence,” says Fernandez, a first-generation American and college graduate herself. “Acknowledging this is really impactful because it creates a sense of belonging that's so important to be successful in college.”

A culture of belonging is central to Nevada State’s existing programs for first-generation students. Those include TRiO-SSS, which offers extra advising, academic support, and financial support to those who are accepted; Nepantla, a summer bridge program that allows first-generation students to take classes at no charge before their first semester; and Sankofa, which supports recruiting and retaining Black students.

A culture of belonging is central to Nevada State’s existing programs for first-generation students.

As part of weaving the first-generation experience into campus culture, Nevada State has remained committed to highlighting and creating identity among first-generation staff. One result of that is College Lingo, a research project led by Shantal Marshall, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, and Kimberly Florence, Ph.D., lecturer of psychology, that has evolved into a practical resource that provides students with the social capital needed to navigate college. Additionally, academic advisers and faculty are skilled in the necessary training to serve first-generation students. That can range from further defining college jargon to sharing their own first-generation status to telling a story about their college journey.

“Our first-generation efforts impact the whole campus and add to the culture,” says Fernandez, who oversees First & Fierce efforts along with Stefanie Coleman, Ed.D., vice president of student affairs, and other campus representatives. “More and more first-generation students are choosing Nevada State, which speaks to our culture and being a teaching institution.”

For all of its First & Fierce efforts, this fall, Nevada State was selected to participate in the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ (NASPA) First-gen Forward program, which outlines a national model for scaling first-generation student success by engaging and empowering higher education institutions. After completing the first phase in its four-phase first-generation plan — phase one is expected to be complete in spring 2023 — Nevada State will earn First-gen Forward Designation.

“Being part of NASPA allows us to be more coordinated in our first-generation efforts,” Fernandez says. “We’re creating a multiyear plan to help Nevada State be more specific and intentional about how we’ll continue to serve first-generation students and improve upon how we serve them.”

We’re creating a multiyear plan to help Nevada State be more specific and intentional about how we’ll continue to serve first-generation students and improve upon how we serve them.

As the first part of this phased plan, First & Fierce will conduct an assessment of current data to better understand who Nevada State’s first-generation students are. First & Fierce is laying the groundwork for the additional phases and looking toward the future, envisioning eventually creating a first-generation center focused on career preparedness and success.

“It’s a point of pride to be first-generation, and it takes a lot of grit to do so,” Fernandez says. “That grit is something to be celebrated and is part of students’ success — and that’s exactly what First & Fierce is all about.”


For more information on Nevada State College's approach, please visit their website here.