Recapping the 2019 First-Generation College Celebration

The Center / June 04, 2020

First-Generation College Celebration Main

On and around November 8, 2019, hundreds of colleges and universities across the country joined the Center for First-generation Student Success and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) to #CelebrateFirstgen during the third annual First-Generation College Celebration.

In the months leading up to this event, we encouraged campuses to get creative in celebrating the achievements of their first-generation college students, faculty, and staff. Over 200 institutions heartily embraced this opportunity to highlight first-gen student success, hosting sometimes week-long, campus-wide celebrations featuring keynote speakers, brown-bag lunch and learn events, and plenty of first-gen swag. Some campuses even used the event as an opportunity to augment their first-gen-specific offerings, collaborating with senior leadership to launch mentoring programs and new strategic plans. Ultimately, these celebrations generated roughly 242,000 engagements across social media platforms: significantly raising awareness of the first-gen identity.

As the Center and COE prepare for the 2020 celebration, we wanted to take a moment to share the exceptional work of the 24 recipients of the First-Generation College Celebration Grant Opportunity. Summaries of their celebrations, as well as links to their blog posts and institutional webpages, are featured below.

Broward College’s First-generation Students Say “I CAN”

During Broward College’s campaign, first-gen students, faculty, and staff shared a meaningful accomplishment and/or challenges they have overcome: beginning their stories with “I Can…” and ending with an accomplishment they wished to share on video. These videos will be used through the college's BrowardUP movement to promote post-secondary education in communities with high poverty and low educational attainment within Broward County. Additionally, as part of the celebration, each person signed a display honoring the commitment to first-generation students at Broward College.

Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Celebrates First-Gen Day!

Georgia Southern University’s TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) celebrated first-generation faculty, staff, and students from November 4 through November 8. First-gen faculty, staff, and students wore their “Ask Me Why I’m 1st” buttons all week, and TRIO scholars shared their experiences as first-gen students during an Instagram takeover. On November 8, Dr. Georgianna L. Martin from the University of Georgia offered a professional development opportunity, “Removing Barriers and Building Bridges to Success for 1st Generation Students” while TRIO students volunteered at a local elementary school.

Marquette University: First-gen Student Success: It Takes a Village!

Marquette University encouraged faculty and staff to sign up for the institution’s First Generation Student Network, distributing buttons to participants to wear throughout the day. Staff posted a list of network members in a large display case within the campus union. FAFSA and graduate school workshops were hosted, in addition to first-gen trivia (hosted by the provost) and an opportunity for students to tell their stories using expressive art forms.

So many doors and opportunities have been opened for me that never would have been possible before...I learned to believe in myself, and I learned to believe that I was worth it.

McHenry County College is Glad You're Here!

McHenry County College hosted a mixer for first-generation students, faculty, and staff. This event included a 10-minute video, which featured the stories of five current first-gen students. Following this video, a five-person panel, which discussed familial/peer support, motivation, mentorship, and building a sense of community on campus.

North Central Missouri College
McHenry Community College FGCC Grant

North Central Missouri College TRiO Student Support Services (SSS) and Upward Bound (UB) launced a First Gen Selfie Contest where SSS and UB students found and took selfies with first-gen graduates wearing special pins. Students posted these selfies on social media with #ncmcfirstgen for a chance to win prizes. SSS and UB also collected donations and made toys for the Green Hills animal shelter, donated books authored by first-gen grads to the library, and hosted a cultural presentation and meal with international students from Curaçao. Additionally, a display featuring student responses to the prompt "Why I'm First" was placed on the first floor of an academic building.

Northwestern State University Student Support Services First-Generation Celebration

Northwestern State University Student Support Services (SSS) collaborated with the College’s First Year Experience Office to host a first-gen panel, which discussed their experiences of overcoming barriers while in school. A former TRIO graduate also submitted a video, which was played after the panel. First-gen students and faculty/staff graduates subsequently competed in a dodgeball tournament, which was sponsored by Café Demon (Starbucks/Sodexo). The café offered free beverages to students wearing their first-gen buttons. The day ended with a tailgate party prior to that evening’s home game.

It’s nice to know [faculty and staff] were once where we are now and they made it.

TRIO Celebrates National First-Gen Day at Purdue University Fort Wayne

Purdue University Fort Wayne’s TRIO Student Support Services led a campus-wide First-Generation Celebration to bring awareness to the strong, vibrant first-generation students, faculty, and staff on campus. A panel of first-generation university faculty and staff members shared stories from their past including challenges, triumphs, and advice to help first-generation students relate to their own struggles.

TRIO Celebrates First-generation Students at Simpson College

Simpson College sent emails highlighting first-gen alumni to members of the campus community. These alumni profiles were presented on a poster at the subsequent celebration event which featured free t-shirts and buttons, as well as informational fliers and brochures. Topics addressed included avoiding financial aid fraud, accessing counseling services, managing money, and filing for the FAFSA. The college also received two surprise donations dedicated to first-gen students, which were used to fund scholarships for students currently enrolled in TRIO.

South Mountain Community College's First-Generation Celebration!

South Mountain Community College’s TRiO Department partnered with the Phoenix Public Library’s College Depot, the University of Arizona, and Grand Canyon University for their event, which involved first-gen students, faculty, and staff sharing their experiences. Participants either wrote their experiences on index cards and shared it over a portable sound system or played a game called “Life’s First,” in which they responded to prompts about first-time experiences. Participants received T-shirts, buttons, and information on local resources for first-gen students.

South Seattle College FGCC Grant
South Seattle College: I am the First!

South Seattle College partnered with their campus’ Embedded Career Specialists to host a ‘Social Capital’ workshop, which discussed the importance of creating and leveraging connections to assist in one’s professional development. Students practiced their elevator pitches, discussed how to utilize social media to build a professional network, and received free professional headshots. Following the workshop, students attended both a staff and alumni panel and a campus resource fair. The latter event included refreshments and an opportunity to use the celebration’s custom Snapchat filter.

Celebrating & Supporting First-gen Students at Texas Tech University!

Texas Tech University’s week-long, inaugural celebration leveraged significant internal partnerships to promote student, faculty, and staff engagement. Faculty and staff pledged to support first-gen students and displayed completed pledge cards in their offices. Those who completed the pledge and identified as first-gen graduates were invited to share their success stories with current students. First-gen students completed a service learning project, sponsored by Military & Veteran Programs, in which they wrote gratitude and support letters to military personnel. Students also attended a FAFSA/TAFSA workshop hosted by University Student Housing and facilitated by Student Financial Aid & Scholarships.

First-Gen Celebration at The Ohio State University at Mansfield

The Ohio State University at Mansfield partnered with the Buckeye Pathways program, which encourages all students to stay at Mansfield for a second year before transferring to the Columbus campus, to host an event with robust engagement from first-gen students, faculty, and staff. Participants received information on resources and the University’s new first-gen pin.

I cannot underscore enough the importance of having someone there who believed in me and wanted to know what was going on in my life and wanted to support me in whatever way they possibly could.

Tidewater Community College

Tidewater Community College's collaborative celebration featured current student and alumni speakers, members of the college's board of directors, and city officials. Student Support Services (SSS) student alumni and current members of the college's band participated in muscial performances, and the college hosted several workshops on healthy habits, dressing for success, financial literacy, and planning for college. Local news stations covered proclamations in support of first-gen students made by the mayors of Portsmouth and Norfolk, during which current SSS students served desserts they had made for the event. The celebration concluded with a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Celebrating First-gen at Tusculum University

Tusculum University hosted a week-long celebration that involved first-gen students, alumni, and local leaders sharing their inspirational stories of success at the University’s three teaching locations. Dr. Greg Nelson, acting president, and Dr. Sherry Dellinger, dean of students, read a proclamation honoring Tusculum’s first-gen students, and Eliza Land Fink, a first-gen TRIO alum and current law school professor at the University of Tennessee, addressed the crowd at the kick-off event. Each event concluded with students, faculty, and staff signing a board stating they were “Proud to be First-gen.” Two additional events celebrated first-gen adult learners, faculty, and staff in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Third Annual National First Generation Celebration Week at University of Washington Tacoma

The University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) kicked-off their week-long celebration with an event that encouraged students to share what being “The First” meant to them. Subsequently, students shared their academic and personal goals on a “Pledge of Commitment” board and took pictures with their “Celebrate First Gen” buttons in a photo booth. Faculty and staff shared their approaches to first-gen student success on an “I Support First Gen Students” board. These tips were later compiled into a first-gen student success reference guide. The week culminated with the debut of the “We Are First Generation Stories” poster campaign, which highlights the experiences of 12 first-gen UWT students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

I take the pledge to be the first in my family to get a degree so that I can guide my little brother and future children in a way that no family member could do for me.

Proud to be First-gen at University of California, San Francisco

The University of California, San Francisco began their celebration with the launch of a campus-wide visibility campaign highlighting six first-gen students and their unique experiences. During the celebration, first-gen students, faculty, and staff enjoyed a hot breakfast and photo booth. They were also encouraged to respond to the prompt “I’m Proud to be First Gen because…” on a large poster. A robust social media campaign featured photos from the event using #firstgenUCSF and #CelebrateFirstgen.

University of Georgia Celebrates First-gen!

The University of Georgia’s inaugural celebration was held from November 6 through November 8 and began with a research-based faculty/staff workshop detailing first-gen student strengths and best practices for empowering these students to navigate challenges. The event continued with a student-led discussion of graduate school experiences and culminated with “Celebrate #FirstGenDawgs,” a resource fair featuring first-gen swag and an appearance by the University President. The Office of Institutional diversity created first-gen story videos to supplement the planning committee’s social media toolkit. The celebration planning committee has continued to meet weekly as a working group to sustain first-gen success efforts.


University of Maine at Farmington

The University of Maine at Farmington celebrated first-gen faculty, staff, and students with a robust storytelling campaign leading up to November 8. Participants were asked to reflect upon the "pride and pressures" of their first-gen identities, and many identified a defining moment, person, or program that helped them to find their way in higher education. These stories, accompanied by the photos of first-gen participants, were featured prominently on the University's website for the duration of the celebration.

Celebrate First-gen Week at the University of Michigan-Dearborn

The University of Michigan–Dearborn’s week-long celebration highlighted first-gen student experiences and resource sharing. Faculty, staff, and students discussed self-care and the recorded stories of their peers and colleagues in a series of professional and personal development events. A partnership with the Moth, a nonprofit organization, allowed students to learn the art of brainstorming true, personal stories while sharing their first-gen pride and strengths on cards displayed in the student center. A library escape room and resource fair allowed students to familiarize themselves with current support offerings.  

I'm proud to be first-gen because I have learned to be resilient and passionate about serving my community.

University of Montevallo’s First-Generation College Celebration

The University of Montevallo’s TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), Falcon Success Center, and TRIO McNair Program’s collaborative celebration highlighted first-gen student success strategies. The event began with remarks from the University President and Provost, both of whom identify as first-gen students. Shortly thereafter, participants were encouraged to share their first-gen experiences and the factors contributing to their success during two breakout sessions facilitated by faculty members. The event concluded with an awards ceremony, during which attendees honored the work of students, faculty, and staff demonstrating excellence in promoting first-gen student success.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln FGCC Grant
First to Go, But Not Alone: First-Gen Celebration Week at University of Nebraska–Lincoln

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln began their week-long celebration with a message of support from their Chancellor who, as a first-gen graduate, encouraged continual engagement in celebration activities and their associated crowdfunding campaign. The celebration continued with workshops for students and campus-based professionals focused on acknowledging both the strengths and challenges associated with the first-gen identity. After two networking events, one of which was sponsored by both the University Libraries and Dunkin’ Donuts, students attended a resource fair, where they explored intersectional identities, received first-gen swag, and shared their experiences on social media with #firstgennebraska.

3-Day First-Gen Celebration at Virginia Western Community College

Virginia Western Community College’s three-day, campus-wide celebration began with a celebration of the community’s student veterans, many of whom are first-gen. Students shared what being first-gen meant to them, learned about available resources, and enjoyed donuts and music. The celebration continued with “Open Mic!”, during which students, faculty, and staff, wearing their “I AM FIRST” T-shirts, sang and shared their personal stories. The celebration concluded with “Get LinkedIn!”, an event that allowed students to receive free professional headshots, learn professional networking and job searching tips, and familiarize themselves with the career center.

Western Washington University

Western Washington University's celebration highlighted the unique, intersectional experiences of first-gen students, faculty, and staff and examined the different constellations of power and privilege that emerge from their identities. Framing these discussions as essential for both building community and dymystifying the first-gen student experience, while facilitating them during an ice cream social, helped students to engage in these difficult dialogues with some level of comfort. 

West Virginia University Institute of Technology Celebrates First-generation College Students!

The West Virginia University Institute of Technology supplemented their weeklong-celebration with a robust virtual presence: utilizing first-gen student and employee social media features, a website dedicated to celebration events, and an archive of first-gen student and graduate stories. Local art teachers led a painting class for students, during which they painted a picture of the University’s mascot. This event was followed by a panel discussion featuring the Provost, a faculty member, the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Director, and a current first-gen student. A follow-up event featured TRIO trivia and additional speakers as well as a money management workshop facilitated by a local bank. The celebration concluded with the opportunity for students to write letters thanking members of Congress for their TRIO support.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

We were delighted by the robust participation by these and other institutions during the 2019 celebration, and we hope that even more colleges and universities will join us in 2020!

Be sure to follow us @FirstgenCenter and @COEtalk for updates on the 2020 First-Generation College Celebration, including the link to our upcoming grant opportunity.

For more celebration inspiration, check out 101 Ways to Celebrate on November 8!