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First-Generation Students to Celebrate Achievements

By Edwin B Smith

University of Mississippi

Andy Flores (right), co-founder and president of the University of Mississippi’s First-Generation Student Network, addresses participants during the 2021 First-Generation College Week kickoff event. Flores is one of the university’s 2022 Truman Scholars. Submitted photo

When Julia Peoples enrolled at the University of Mississippi, she was the first in her family to go to college. The Puckett native struggled to find the right fit; that was, until she discovered the First-Generation Student Network as an upperclassman.

“The connections were really useful to me as a I worked to complete my law school applications,” the 2021 integrated marketing communications graduate said. “Now as a Yale University law student, I’m working to reach first-generation professional students and spread opportunities and connections further.”

First-generation students will be center stage at UM during First-Generation College Week, set for Nov. 7-10. The week coincides with the annual national First-Generation College Celebrationon Nov. 8, and this is the fourth year that Ole Miss has participated in the national observance.

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

More than 130 students make up the First-Generation Student Network. About 30 students are participating in the StudentsFIRST section of the EDHE 105: Freshman Year Experience course, which aims to get students connected to one other and to various campus resources.

“Being one of the first in college from my family opens the door to a number of opportunities, many of which have been uncommon in my particular case,” said Savannah White, a junior biology major from Hattiesburg. 

“Unlike many in my family, I have been able to obtain glimpses into the career I am pursuing through my connections, which, in turn, may ease the stress of adjustment when I begin my career.”

All activities will be in-person. The featured events include:

  • Kickoff event – 4-5 p.m. Nov. 7, Grove Stage. The Student Activities Association is sponsoring the event with outdoor yard games and free pizza. All are invited to come socialize, talk about the first-gen experience and appreciate peers.
  • Keynote address and reception – 5 p.m. Nov. 8, great room of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Featuring Jennifer Morton, author of “Moving Up Without Losing Your Way.” This event is hosted by the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement.
  • First-gen Panel Discussion – 5:15 p.m. Nov. 9, Peabody Hall, Room 206 – Featuring undergraduate, graduate and staff perspectives. Topics of discussion include the state of first-generation student life on campus; panelists’ social, academic and professional experiences as first-gen students; and what staff and faculty can do to support first-gen students on campus.
  • Coffee and Conversation – 9-10:30 a.m. Nov. 10, Ole Miss Student Union, Room 325. Topics of discussion for undergraduate and graduate students include perspectives on first-gen identity, attending graduate school as a first-gen student and how to prepare to apply for graduate school.

First-Generation College Week is sponsored by the UM Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, First-Generation Student Network, Graduate School, and the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience’s StudentsFIRST program.

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Adam Brown
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