TLU Proud to be the First Program

Samira López, M.Ed., Texas Lutheran University / The Center / February 17, 2021

At Texas Lutheran University (TLU), over half of the student body proudly identifies as first-generation (a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have never earned a four-year bachelor’s degree). Many faculty and staff members at our institution identify this way, as well. In understanding the needs and growth of this population, the Office of First Year and Campus Programs developed and implemented what we call the “Proud to be the First” program. Collaboration with first-generation student leaders and other departments on campus was essential in curating a program that would celebrate and, most importantly, acknowledge their common experience. Student strategies and marketing concepts were researched to promote the growth and sustainability of the program.

Cultivating the success of first-generation students, the program provides intentional involvement opportunities, helps introduce academic support resources, and instills a sense of pride.

Today, the Proud to be the First program has sparked excitement and created a common language across the TLU campus. We provide each first-generation student with a virtual path and tracking system for actionable data and a post-completion engagement from the time of admission.

Below are a few components of the Proud to be the First program that quickly became traditions at our institution:

TLU First-Gen Virtual Path to Graduation

The virtual TLU First-Gen path was developed in response to the growing attendance at first-gen events, socials, and ceremonies. Already having an established involvement platform through the Student Activities office, a path was developed exclusively for first-generation students. The path tracks attendance, engagement, and involvement data from orientation to graduation. Students use a personal QR code given at orientation to scan into all events. Each scan automatically connects to and creates a first-generation co-curricular transcript for each student.

The success and growth of the path led student leaders to develop the official TLU First-Generation stole as a post-completion engagement incentive.

First-Generation Pinning Ceremony

This ceremony recognizes, celebrates, and honors the accomplishments of our first-generation students at TLU. The ceremony takes place every fall during a chapel service. New first-generation students are presented with an official TLU First-Generation pin that symbolizes TLU’s support in their journey towards graduation.

Words from our First-generation Students

“The First-Generation pinning ceremony to me means that I'm getting recognized for a big accomplishment in my life. The pin shows that I am the first in my family to go above and beyond to make my life better for me. The ceremony shows me that I'm not alone in this. There are other students like me that are dedicated to finishing school and going out to make our lives better than we could've imagined. I never thought that being a first-gen student was a big deal until we actually received our pin.” – Jacklyn Mata

“The pinning ceremony was one of the first times I genuinely felt connected to the people and environment of Texas Lutheran University. The pinning ceremony here at TLU is all about first-generation students being recognized as being a part of campus, and it shows that we do belong here as students just as much as anyone else. I felt more included and that I actually mattered on campus. “– Jordan Mendoza

It was so important to capture the first-gen narrative from students, faculty, staff, and alumni alike to hear their past and present experiences.

Pathway Guides

Cross-trained in academic advising and career development, Pathway Guides are student leaders equipped to support their peers in academic and career planning. A two-person committee, chosen from among the Pathway Guide team members, partners directly with the First Year and Campus Programs office to develop programming around information and resources that supports first-gen students in their academic and career planning journey at TLU. This spring, Pathway Guides led conversations about preparing for advising, registration, and internships and summer employment.

"Interacting with other first-gen students from a leadership position was a very fulfilling experience for me. It felt great to be able to share the knowledge and tips I learned over my first two years of college as a first-gen student. Pathway Guides can be a great resource for first-gen students because they can provide great insight for academic planning and access to campus resources in a personable manner." – Makaio Feliciano

“Working with the first-gen students has been such a meaningful experience to me, especially since I am a first-gen student myself. Helping students attend events to go towards their first-gen stole and navigate the college experience for the first time is something I will always hold close to my heart because I remember the feeling of not knowing my way around higher education when I first came to TLU. Being a first-gen student is awesome, and being able to help future students is an experience I would recommend to all students!” – Claire Weindorff

COVID-19 First-Generation Video Series

The first-generation videos linked above were filmed during a time where uncertainty reigned supreme for most students during the pandemic. For first-gen students, it became apparent that they now not only had to deal with being the first to learn about how to navigate college but also how to manage it in a COVID-19 environment. Therefore, it was so important to capture the first-gen narrative from students, faculty, staff, and alumni alike to hear their past and present experiences. The video series includes first-gen topics such as the strengths and challenges of being first-gen, how they dealt with the coronavirus, and how TLU staff and alumni navigated college.

For more information on Texas Lutheran University’s approach, please visit their orientation webpage, First-gen Forward press release, and Firstgiving Dinner webpage.