The Center Turns Three: A Year of Response

The Center / June 12, 2020

Center Banner Image Students

Upon publicly sharing the Center’s establishment on June 14, 2017, we genuinely didn’t know what to expect. We were steadfast in our belief that there was a great need for increased support for first-generation students and optimistic that practitioners and scholars across the country would see the Center as a resource when advancing their tireless efforts. We quickly found ourselves welcomed by a community of incredibly talented individuals who were eager to engage, contribute, and lead and we continue to be grateful for those who continue to support our efforts.



Charting Our Course

Once the Center launched, we knew establishing our Strategic Priorities would be imperative for success. We created the priorities shared below as intentional responses to what we saw as needs of the community and the field of higher education and with a keen eye toward improving outcomes and experiences for first-generation students. These priorities serve as a framework for each decision we make.

Three years later, these four strategic priorities continue to drive and direct the Center’s work, yet, upon reflection, the past 12 months have challenged us to advance our work in new ways. 

Where We've Been

Our reflection begins in June 2019, when the growing need for dedicated professional development, community building, and scholarship surrounding first-generation students led to the inaugural First-generation Student Success (FGSS) Conference in Orlando, Florida. Uniquely, the FGSS conference joined three other conferences (Assessment, Persistence, and Data Analytics; Closing the Achievement Gap; and Student Financial Wellness) to round out the NASPA Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education (SSHE). This event gathered 1600+ participants and exhibitors and quickly became the preferred conference for those committed to student success.

Center Staff at FGSS19
The Center maintained the momentum generated by the FGSS conference throughout the fall, when we began visiting our initial First Scholars Network campuses (Kansas State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Memphis). These visits were part of our reimagining of the original First Scholars program where we introduced the redesigned First Scholars Framework and our emerging plans to offer a national scaling model for institutional transformation specific to first-generation student success. To date, we have 31 institutions in the inaugural First Scholars Network, each selected following an in-depth analysis and completion of our Institutional Readiness Assessment. Each institution will receive Expert Guidance paired with an intentionally designed Insights Tool to identify areas of potential progress for holistic student support as well as access to tools and resources across the next two years.

To learn more about First Scholars®, visit:

As fall became winter, our attention shifted to the 2020 NASPA Annual Conference, and we were looking forward to joining our colleagues in the Violet Crown City: Austin, Texas. As you know, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic, soon after the place-based NASPA Annual Conference was canceled. Despite our disappointment that we could not be together in Austin, we are proud of how quickly we created the Virtual Highlights offerings, which included many of the original featured conference speakers, expert panels, and thought-provoking conversations.

Across higher education, there was a need to respond quickly to COVID-19, which often led to making decisions ahead of fully understanding the entire scope of their consequences and in some cases unintentionally leaving students, particularly those who identify as first-generation, in difficult situations. In response, the Center created the First-gen COVID-19 Resource page, which continues to grow as more information becomes available.

We continue to focus on ways institutions can support first-generation students during this global pandemic, especially as we prepare for the next academic year, which is the focus of A Moderated Discussion: Fall 2020 First-gen Student Enrollment Considerations, now available OnDemand. Equally as important are the experiences of first-generation professionals. On June 16, a first-generation panel will discuss We’re Still First: Navigating the Hidden Curriculum as a First-gen Professional, and we hope you are able to tune in.

The Center offers monthly Online Learning events, consisting of both live and recorded virtual professional development opportunities.


Virtual SSHE
Our response to COVID-19 continued as we learned the place-based experience of the NASPA Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education in Baltimore, Maryland, would not be possible. As the premier summer professional development opportunity dedicated to student success, we understood the importance of creating an alternative experience with the 2020 NASPA Virtual Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education. The schedule includes 80+ education and engagement sessions, an incredible list of featured speakers, and many opportunities to connect with others. We hope you will join us June 29 – July 1 for this exciting virtual event from the comforts of your own home or workspace. Registration closes on June 24, so secure your spot today!

In the midst of turmoil, we announced the continuation of our partnership with The Suder Foundation. The generosity of Eric and Deb Suder and their deep commitment to advancing first-generation efforts allows the Center to thrive as a national leader in student success.

Where We're Going

As year three comes to a close, our response to meet the unique needs of first-generation students, staff, and faculty continues. To remain current on all Center offerings, sign up to receive the Center biweekly newsletter, bookmark and visit often, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (@FirstgenCenter).

There are many, many exciting new programs, services, and initiatives ready for the Center’s fourth year, and our team is excited to share and engage. 

If there are ways we could support you and your work, please reach out to us via email,