Three Keys to Running a Successful First-gen Initiative

Samantha Borrego M.S., / The Center / October 25, 2019

Metro State University FF


Implementing a successful initiative can be daunting. You put a lot of time and effort into it, and students don’t show-up. In this post, I would like to share how First Generation Initiatives at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) launched successful programs. If you are new to your role or want to start a fresh program, I hope you will find this post helpful.


I started my role as the Coordinator for First-Generation Initiatives at MSU Denver in April of 2019. Approximately, 55% of MSU Denver’s student population identify as first-generation. Out of all the first-generation students, more than half are low-income. After understanding our student population, we decided to launch a program called Money Matters Month.


Metro State Money Matters
The goal of Money Matters Month is to give first-generation students tools to reach their financial goals. We have completed six workshops so far and approximately 130 students attended at least one of the workshops. As soon as the workshop flyer was sent out, I received several emails from students who were excited to learn more about each topic. Some of the comments were, “No one in my family owns a home. It is a huge goal of mine” or “I am so thankful that you are doing these workshops. I don’t know where else I would learn them from.”

A colleague asked me: “What do you think has allowed you to gain so much interest in your programs?” So, I came up with the following three reasons: collaboration, content, and effective communication.

First, collaboration is important. I am the only full-time staff member in my office. I do have an amazing team of students, but we just cannot do everything on our own. I have been intentional in seeking out partnerships with offices that serve a high number of first-generation students. This semester, the majority of the programming was created by including perspectives from several different offices on campus. When I requested their help I focused on our shared vision. We all want to support, retain, and graduate students, especially those from marginalized populations. Collaboration with different areas allowed for greater buy-in and a greater willingness to help encourage students to participate in events.

Metro State Students Sitting
Another aspect as to why I think our programming is turning out well is because of the content we selected. As part of Money Matters Month, we are offering workshops on topics such as buying a home, building credit, and investing/retirement. When our committee discussed which workshops to do we thought a lot about our own experiences as first-generation students. Based on what we knew was difficult for us and what we hear from our students we decided on the topics ultimately were included in the Money Matters Month. The content resonated with the experiences of our first-gen students and allowed us to garner greater interest.

Lastly, and perhaps the biggest reason of all, I think the strong student turn out is because our office is 'speaking first-gen.' What do I mean by this? Speaking first-gen is connecting with and relating to your audience; it is telling your story when promoting events to students. When I talk about Money Matters Month, I share experiences of living pay-check to pay-check, growing up and the stress we felt as a family. I share my experiences living in low-income apartments and dreaming of buying my own home for me and my family. By sharing my story I allow students to connect with me and they are better able to see why a workshop on taxes could be useful.

In all, if you want to have better turn out with your programs, do three things. First- collaborate with other offices, second- make sure your content is relevant to the students lived experience, and lastly, try to speak first-gen when you email, post on social media, and any time you are speaking with students. Encourage your staff to do the same.