The First Gen Student Org: Pushing Forward in a Pandemic

Susan Estep, M.A.; Rachel Leonard, M.A.; Brigit Bradakis; Reem Omer; & Brandon Queen, University of Michigan-Dearborn / The Center / March 03, 2021

At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the first-generation student population has almost taken hold of majority representation on our campus. Starting out as a committee of students, faculty, and staff, the first-generation student voice was beginning to rise. Aiming towards sustainability, our University transitioned from a committee focusing on first-generation student success to a student organization. Throughout this experience, our first-generation students have shown their leadership, dedication, ownership, and passion while growing their organization.

Hearing from our first-generation students is an essential component of understanding their specific needs on our campus. For this blog post, we have asked the student organization leaders to share their perspective on how they have been able to support first-generation students throughout the pandemic while also building the foundation for a successful community.

We (Brigit Bradakis, Reem Omer, and Brandon Queen) started a first-gen student organization during a pandemic, and we’ve found success despite the virtual world.

Being first-gen can mean feeling that college is impossible, that you’re alone, or that you’re stuck between the world of your family’s past and the world of your future. In reality, a great portion of students across the globe are first-generation college students going through similar struggles, but it can be hard to find them. Being able to connect with students like you can make your campus experience that much more impactful.

At the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2020, around 48% of incoming students were first-generation college students. These students were starting off their University of Michigan-Dearborn college experience completely virtual. For hours at a time, they were staring at a screen, trying to make connections, whether with the material being presented to them or with the other students in their Zoom rooms. Those connections can feel overwhelming or impossible in the virtual world. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, we heard first-generation students crying out for help, and we answered.

Officially recognized in September 2020, the First Gen Student Org was formed, with the intention of informing, connecting, supporting, and celebrating first-generation students as they navigate higher education. Despite the pandemic, our organization has found major success. We are proud to be the only student organization at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to participate in Giving Blueday, a major fundraising event tied to Giving Tuesday. We intend to use donations from Giving Blueday to establish an endowed scholarship and also recognize all first-generation students at graduation through first-gen pins. We also found major success through our First Gen Fan Club for faculty, staff, alumni, and business contacts. It was established to bring different groups across campus and the broader community together to better support first-generation students. Our Fan Club was kicked off with our First Gen Ally Training, a major success during our First Gen Week.

Despite the pandemic, the resilience of first-gen Students has not waivered, and through our student organization, we have been able to hear the stories of first-gen students, and for that, we are so lucky.

For more information on the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s approach, please visit their website here.