The First-Gen Experience: A One-Day Summit Creating a Foundation of Success for First-Generation Students

Katie Hermes, Desiree Padron, University of North Texas / The Center / March 15, 2023

Group of students eating lunch at a round cafeteria table

"First-gen Experience will help me feel less alone... meeting others that are the first to go to college in their family as well. It will make me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself." - Anonymous, First-generation UNT Student, Fall 2022

The beginning of a new academic year is filled with excitement, anticipation and busy days on any college campus. As students begin to move into their residence halls and apartments, excitement can be overtaken by nerves. This is especially true at the University of North Texas (UNT), a Tier-One Research, Minority-Serving, and Hispanic-Serving Institution, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with a student population of 45,000 students.

About forty percent of UNT’s undergraduate population identifies as first-generation students. In August of 2021, UNT’s First-generation Success Center (FGSC) launched an initiative called, The First-gen Experience. The purpose of the initiative was to give first-generation freshman a crash-course in college readiness prior to the first day of the semester. UNT’s First-gen Experience is modeled after the campus’ already existing Black Student Experience and TRIO Upward Bound summer bridge programs.

The goals of First-gen Experience are:
  • Building a first-generation community and increasing student resiliency
  • Access to peer mentorship programs
  • Connection to valuable campus resources
  • Engagement with first-generation faculty and staff members

First-gen Experience is a free one-day summit held on the UNT campus. During the application process, freshman students were given the opportunity to share personal reflections surrounding their transition to UNT and what they hoped to gain from participating in First-gen Experience.

Community building is intentional throughout the day – beginning with introductions of current first-gen student leaders from various student organizations and personal backgrounds. Freshman students are given the opportunity to ask questions during an interactive Q&A panel with the student leaders. Later in the day students are divided into small groups and assigned a first-generation faculty, staff member or peer-mentor to lead a lively, yet intimate, discussion during the lunch hour. Freshman students are shown how their first-generation identity is an asset to their success on a college campus through the lived experiences of current members of their community. The summit closes with an opportunity for self-reflection aided with an activity centered around empowerment and honoring your journey.

Attending First-gen Experience was definitely such an eye-opening experience. You realize that there is a big community that you can relate to. When I first came to UNT, I didn't have anybody to ask questions & relate. Now that I attended First-gen Experience, I see that there is a community where I can be myself & thrive as a student. - Jorge Garcia, UNT student and First-generation Student Organization President

As the UNT FGSC enters their third year hosting the First-gen Experience, the team is excited to continue to innovatively grow the program to better serve future first-generation students at UNT to come!

For more information on the University of North Texas approach, please visit their website here.