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Advancing #FirstgenForward: Center for First-generation Student Success Makes Strides Since Launch

Student Success
April 18, 2018 Sarah E. Whitley NASPA

It has been an exciting few months for the Center for First-generation Student Success. Not only have we seen steady progress in the Center’s work since our June 2017 launch, we’ve had multiple opportunities to gather with influential leaders, campus administrators and practitioners, researchers, scholars, and students to think critically about the first-generation student experience. These conversations, and the perspectives of colleagues across higher education, are imperative in how we shape the Center and provide services and resources in alignment with needs. 

The Center gathered in January with leaders from across higher education gathering in Arlington, VA, and virtually across 75 locations, for the inaugural Convening on First-generation Student Success. Our mission for the day was to consider the current challenges facing colleges and universities in serving first-generation students and to develop solutions through innovative approaches, cross-sector collaborations, strengthening data and research, and dismantling silos that impede progress. The day was full of thoughtful conversations, strategies to influence student success, and a dedicated commitment to move #FirstgenForward. That’s right, a hashtag was born! No great event is complete without a hashtag and we were pleased to see #FirstgenForward trending in the Washington, DC area. The Center has continued to use #FirstgenForward so be sure to follow us @FirstgenCenter and join the conversation. To learn more about this event, see photos, and browse a list of attendees, visit the Convening on First-generation Student Success Report.  

While NASPA celebrated our 100th anniversary at our Annual Conference in March, the Center was pleased to make a very successful debut! We kicked off with a pre-conference on “Becoming an Individual & Institutional Advocate for First-generation College Students” facilitated by Center Advocacy Group members Dr. Whitnee D. Boyd, Coordinator of Special Projects, Texas Christian University, Dr. Brett L. Bruner, Director of Transition & Student Conduct, Fort Hays State University, and Dr. Wendy Bruun, Executive Director of Student Affairs, Northern Arizona University. During the opening ceremony, NASPA President, Dr. Kevin Kruger reiterated NASPA’s commitment to student success and highlighted the Center as an essential component in shaping first-generation student success. Our timing was just right as the highly anticipated keynote speaker, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, spoke eloquently of her own first-generation student experience. Justice Sotomayor’s thoughtful reflection and support of our commitment to first-generation student success not only reinvigorated our work but the experiences of a large crowd of first-generation students and practitioners committed to this success.

The Center also had an exciting, standing room only experience during Annual Conference! We were fortunate to be joined by over 100 attendees for an education session on the forthcoming National Landscape Analysis of First-generation Student Success Programs at Four-Year Institutions. The crowd was eager to learn, offered great insight, and asked thoughtful questions. Despite Philadelphia bringing a bit more wintry weather than planned, the Center also co-hosted a networking reception with our colleagues from the Socioeconomic & Class Issues in Higher Education Knowledge Community. They were wonderful partners and we look forward to future collaborations. A new initiative for 2018, the Center joined NASPA colleagues for a booth in the Exhibition Hall where we were able to interact with attendees and share information. While we know the biggest draw to our booth was the awesome candy, comfortable couches, and charging stations, we still felt like celebrities! The Center also owes a raincheck to all of our first-generation attendees who did not receive a “first-gen” name tag ribbon. They were a hit and we are ordering twice as many for next year’s NASPA Annual Conference in Los Angeles, CA. We love that you love identifying as first-generation!

Just off the excitement of Annual Conference, the Center partnered with our outstanding colleague and Center Advocacy Group member, Dr. Sonja Ardoin for “Exploring the ways jargon influences access and success for first-generation college students” - the inaugural event in our Center live briefing series. Dr. Ardoin, clinical assistant professor and program director for higher education administration at Boston University, was joined by over 170 engaged participants who gained insight into the influence of higher education jargon on underserved populations and strategies for creating institutional and cultural shifts. Have we peaked your interest? If you missed the live briefing, you can catch up OnDemand. Stay tuned as we announce more first-generation student success live briefings in the coming weeks. 

Now that we’ve caught you up to speed on the Center, it’s time to share what’s next. Soon, the Center will release the “National Landscape Analysis of First-generation Student Success Programs at Four-Year Institutions.” You’ll find the report on our brand-new website that will launch in late-April! The website will be your one-stop destination for programs, services, research, literature, engagement, and more. Once you read the landscape report and dig through the new website, you might be wondering what to do with all this new-found information on first-generation student success. Well, we hope you apply it! Accompanying the landscape analysis, the Center will kick-off a live briefing series that provides implementation strategies for the many recommendations offered in the report. Stay tuned for more details! 

While we understand your thoughts may be on making it through the end of the academic year, we hope you’ll consider joining us for some summer professional development. The Center is pleased to announce a “first-generation track” for the 2018 Closing The Achievement Gap conference and Symposium on Collegiate Financial Well-being on May 31 - June 2. Co-located in Columbus, OH, the track includes a pre-conference workshop, educational sessions, and a networking reception - all with a focus on first-generation student success. We are also excited to host Dr. Stella Flores from New York University as a keynote speaker on Friday, June 1. All conference and symposium attendees are invited to attend sessions as part of this new first-generation student success track. Conference registration ends on April 27.

The Center’s momentum is exciting and we hope you’ll continue to engage with us in this journey. A few things you can do: 

  • Update your NASPA member profile to declare your interest in the Center and first-generation programs.
  • Follow us on Twitter @FirstgenCenter and use #FirstgenForward to share your programs and ideas.
  • Watch for the launch of our new website.
  • Join us for in-person conferences or upcoming live briefing events to learn and network!
  • Present! We would love to hear more about your research and programs. Don’t be hesitant to submit a conference proposal or let us know that you’d like to partner for a live briefing.
  • Share! Want to write a blog for our new website? Did you recently publish an article that we should feature? Do you have an upcoming event to publicize? Let us know!
  • Mark your calendar for the 2018 National First-generation Celebration Day on November 8. More details to come!
  • Let us know how we can continue to serve you and first-generation students.

Thank you for supporting the Center for First-generation Student Success and all you do to move #FirstgenForward