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Weeklong Celebration Set for First-Generation Students

By Edwin B. Smith

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi administrators and first-generation students greet one another at a breakfast honoring first-gen students in the Grove in November 2020. Photo by Logan Kirkland/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The academic achievements of first-generation students are being celebrated at the University of Mississippi with a series of in-person and virtual activities planned for Nov. 8-11.

First-Generation Celebration Week is co-sponsored by the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College’s First-Generation Student Network and the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience’s StudentsFIRST program, with additional support from the Office of the Provost. The week coincides with the annual National First-Generation College Celebration on Monday (Nov. 8).

“This year, we have incredible cross-campus ‘buy-in’ to celebrate our first-generation students and the contributions they make to our community,” said Ashleen Williams, instructional assistant professor, senior Barksdale fellow and adviser to the First-Generation Student Network. “Unlike in previous years, we will have individual units across campus hosting events and also a major social media campaign.”

Scheduled events include:

  • Nov. 8, 3-5 p.m. – “First-Generation Student Celebration” on the Student Union Plaza. Chancellor Glenn Boyce – a first-gen student himself – is scheduled to deliver a brief address at 4 p.m. Snacks and outdoor games will be available.
  • Nov. 9, 5 p.m. – Keynote address by Eduardo Prieto, vice chancellor for enrollment management, followed by a reception in the Honors College great room.
  • Nov. 10, 12 p.m. – A virtual student panel discussion about first-generation student life on campus. Topics of discussion include perspectives on first-gen identity, life as a first-gen student and how to grow the first-gen community.
  • Nov. 11 – 12:30 p.m. – “Grad School is For You” seminar hosted by the Graduate School in Lamar Hall, Room 129.
  • Nov. 11-12, All-day – Members of the First-Generation Student Network will collaborate with departments and organizations on campus to spotlight first-gen students and their work around the university. Social media takeovers, student spotlights and videos of first-gen students discussing their life/work at the university are planned.

“I hope to reach staff, faculty and other adults who are/were first-generation college-goers themselves,” said Andy Flores, a senior public policy leadership major from Southaven and president of the First-Generation Student Network. 

“Recent data from our campus climate survey show that nearly a third of our campus is composed of first-generation college students, yet the population has remained largely invisible, as the first-generation students tend to be hard to identify.”

Flores and Prieto worked together on the university’s task force for first-generation students this past summer.

“His dedication to making the first-gen population more visible from the point of enrollment made him a wonderful choice for this speech,” Flores said.

Ainsley Ash, a 2020 public policy leadership alumna from Meridian, founded the First-Generation Student Network in 2019.

First-generation students often come from families and environments where higher education might not be a priority or have family members who did not attend college themselves and simply aren’t able to provide needed guidance. The aim of the StudentsFIRST program is give first-generation students the academic and social support they need to be successful.

This is the third year the university has observed the national celebration.

“Being the first people from their families to attend college, many of our students are great examples of resiliency,” said Michael Smith, academic adviser at the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience and StudentsFIRST program coordinator. “They have to be highly motivated to face the challenges ahead of them.”

More than 80 students make up the First-Generation Student Network. Around 15 students are participating in Smith’s StudentsFIRST section of EDHE 105: Freshman Year Experience, a course that aims to get more students connected to one other and to various campus resources.

There is also campuswide support. For example, peer mentors are available to assist first-generation college students in coordination with the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement.

To participate in First-Generation Celebration Week virtual panel discussion, visit https://olemiss.zoom.us/j/4126317601.

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