Lee University hosted “First-Generation Week” to celebrate first-generation college students and raise awareness about the challenges they face.
“We want to empower, encourage, and celebrate the first-generation college students at Lee to continuing striving to be the first in their families to graduate from college,” said Dr. Kevin Ung, director of the McNair Scholars Program at Lee. “We want our students to know that they are not on this journey alone and they can lean on professors and administrators who traversed a similar journey before them.”
Lee’s First-Generation Week included daily events, such as panels, conversations, lectures, a “candy cab” with music and Lee trivia, the First-Gen Festival, and more. The week was organized by Jake Fast, academic coordinator for LEAP (Learn, Engage, and Achieve Program); Alex Staup, director of student engagement; Whitney Thompson, student success coordinator; Jeni Turner, McNair Scholars Program coordinator; Dr. Angela Waltrip, director of LEAP; and Dr. Ung.
“First-generation students are breaking the educational barrier, while bringing about generational change for future families,” said Dr. Ung. “These intentional programming events and student conversations, which may originate during First-Generation Week, can spark the motivation a student needs to press forward towards completing college.”
First-Generation Week is a nationwide celebration to raise awareness and increase advocacy for these students. By participating in the First-Generation Week celebration, Lee hopes to highlight the resources available and the community of first-generation students, faculty, and staff at Lee. As part of the celebration, Lee staff and faculty received “#CelebrateFirstGen” bracelets and “I’m First” lapel pins. The hashtag “#CelebrateFirstGen” is a nationwide hashtag for all celebrations that occurred around the country.
“Statistically, first-generation college students are more likely to drop out of college, have less familial support, and possess limited financial resources to attend college,” said Dr. Ung. “If a conversation, a connection, or an encouragement can provide the extra push for one student to maintain their resolve towards graduation, our collective efforts will be well worth it. This real possibility makes the work of our planning committee, and our partnering campus offices, tangible and impactful.”
LEAP began at Lee in 2015 to provide individual success coaching, peer mentors, direct student aid, financial aid counseling, financial literacy education, cultural and academic enrichment opportunities, and other personalized services according to individual students’ needs. The McNair Scholars Program, which began at Lee in 2017, is designed to provide first-generation students and underrepresented minority students with academic, financial, cultural, and social support and cultivate an interdisciplinary community of scholars who prepare for graduate school through seminars, workshops, campus visits, research experience, and academic conferences.
For more information about First-Generation College Celebration Week, visit https://firstgen.naspa.org/.