Strengthening the Culture of Pride and Support for First-gen Students

Erin A. Van Daalwyk, M.Ed., University of Wisconsin–Green Bay / The Center / April 20, 2022

First-gen Phoenix Logo

In May 1970, a student-organized election voted the Phoenix as the official mascot of the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. A mythical creature, the Phoenix is associated with strength, balance, and resilience. When students voted to select this mascot, they likely did not know how important the characteristic of resilience would become to the identity of UW–Green Bay. UW–Green Bay students largely identify with this spirit of resilience, and institutionally, the University strives to teach all students to embrace this resilient spirit through problem solving, collaboration, and leaning into our collective strengths.

As of the fall 2020, 44% of UW–Green Bay students on our four campuses (Green Bay, Manitowoc, Marinette and Sheboygan) self-identified as first-generation college students. We are striving to help strengthen recognition of this identity and the culture of pride and support on all our UW–Green Bay campuses as part of the University’s strategic planning to better serve first-generation college students. UW–Green Bay offers programs and services exclusively designed to support first-generation students like an upper-division student/alumni mentoring program, first-generation student Living Learning Community (LLC), and many services geared towards meeting first-generation student needs like Gateways to Phoenix Success (GPS).

Fall 2021 began a collective and intentional university-wide effort to highlight the first-generation identity with strategies that bolster pride and create supportive connections amongst students, faculty, and staff.

UW–Green Bay recognizes that the success of first-generation college students opens the pathway for future generations.

GB Welcome started a first-generation student social as an annual introduction for first-year students who identify as first-generation to meet each other as well as faculty, staff, and returning students who feel pride in their first-generation identity and want to help incoming students succeed.

For First-Generation College Student Appreciation Day, vinyl stickers with a new logo were created with the help of a newly created student organization, First Gen Phoenix. Students and staff distributed these identifiers on all four campus locations; these identifiers can now be seen on water bottles, laptops, and in faculty and staff offices declaring pride and seeking connection.

Faculty and staff were invited to “raise their hand” through surveying to share the ways they would like to support and/or identify themselves as first-generation alumni. When given this opportunity, first-generation staff enthusiastically started asking to represent their department or area when engaging with first-generation students.

Departmental and divisional leads were given the opportunity to take part in a survey highlighting all the programs and services their areas offer that are uniquely designed to serve first-generation students. This has helped create a catalog of programs and services for students and a helpful guide for faculty and staff.

Marketing has increased efforts to highlight achievements of first-generation learners, like in the video below where psychology student Paige Anderson encourages her first-generation counterparts to “Be Brave” and take advantage of all the University has to offer.

Fearlessly facing challenges, UW–Green Bay’s Paige Anderson is a resilient first-generation psychology student pursuing her dreams.

These initiatives are just some of the ways in which UW–Green Bay is helping first-generation students embrace their identity, deepen supportive connections, and strengthen the sense of belonging in our campus communities. Dr. Corey King, vice chancellor for inclusivity and student affairs, has championed these initiatives and a collaborative approach with academic affairs. “UW–Green Bay recognizes that the success of first-generation college students opens the pathway for future generations,” says Dr. King. The establishment of a robust sense of pride amongst our first-generation students is not only a benefit to them but also will strengthen the UW–Green Bay Phoenix community for years to come.

For more information on University of Wisconsin–Green Bay’s approach, please visit their website here.