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Recognition Pins Help First-Gen Families Celebrate Graduation

Amy Ruymann, Rowan University / The Center / September 15, 2021


Flying First wristbands in support of Rowan University first-gen students

Commencement Day is always a wonderful day for students and their families. At Rowan University Commencement is extra special for students who are first in their families to graduate from college. However, prior to 2021, the University had no official way to celebrate first-generation graduates at the ceremony. That’s where Flying First stepped in.

Rowan University’s First-Generation Task Force initiative, commonly called Flying First, was developed to enhance academic success for our first-generation students while increasing a sense of belonging within our campus community. Through the promotion of diversity, educational opportunities, and intentional support, Flying First assists with the transition to college, provides resources to facilitate success in the classroom, and fosters pride in and positive perceptions of first-generation students through networking and advocacy. The First-Generation Task Force also works to increase first-generation awareness on campus and encourages faculty and staff to show their first-gen pride by wearing a Flying First t-shirt, wristband, or posting Flying First stickers on their laptops.

But with over 30% of Rowan University’s total undergraduate student population reported as first-gen, it was important for Flying First to recognize and celebrate this vibrant group of students at graduation. The Task Force wanted to develop a way to make first-gens visible at Commencement, help others celebrate them, and provide a keepsake to remind them of their accomplishment.

In 2021, the First Generation Task Force introduced first-generation graduate pins to Rowan University undergraduate and graduate students at commencement. They were a huge hit with first-gen graduates and their families. The pins met their purpose, bringing visibility and awareness to Rowan’s first-gen community and providing first-gen students with a memento of the occasion. In 2022, Flying First expanded its reach to include first-generation students in the University's two medical schools: Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Now, it is a new tradition - that every first-generation student receives a First-Generation Graduate pin that they proudly wear as they walk across the stage.

Moving forward, First-Generation Task Force members will present each graduate with a lapel pin on a card with the following message:

“This pin identifies whoever wears it as a Rowan University first-generation college graduate. First-generation students are hard-working, resilient and determined. Please wear this pin as a reminder of your accomplishment of being first to fly.”

The Task Force has found that students are grateful for the acknowledgement and are filled with pride to be first-generation. Against a First-Generation graduation backdrop, Task Force members take photos of first-gen graduates wearing their pins alongside those who inspired and supported them on their academic journey, The Task Force then shares those photos with the graduates, their families, and the broader Rowan community on Flying First’s social media. The initiative has greatly increased first-gen pride and awareness and is a tradition to be continued well into the future.


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