UGA is equipping first-gen students to leverage their strengths
Jordan Delaney always knew she wanted to go to college. She went on to be the only senior from her 2017 graduating class in Dekalb County to attend the University of Georgia. Delaney is the proud daughter of a mother who had aspirations to complete college but was unable to due to the challenges that life presented her.
“When I began college, I didn’t even realize I was a first-generation student since my mom had attended some college,” Delaney said.
First-generation students are the first in their family to earn a college degree. Though studies have shown that first-gen students often have challenges in terms of financial resources, social capital and academic preparation, they often also have many strengths including adaptability, grit, resilience and fresh perspectives that allow them to thrive at UGA.
Equipping students to leverage their strengths is critical to the work of first-generation student success. For over 30 years, the University of Georgia has been committed to the success of first-generation students—leveraging private donations to U.S. Department of Education grants like the most recently awarded Student Support Services grant of $2.6 million.
For Delaney, support came in the form of UGA’s TRIO Student Support Services Program, a federally funded initiative that provides holistic services for first-generation students.
Sherontae Maxwell, assistant director for access programs, said, “TRIO SSS and STEM-H provide students like Delaney fantastic support and resources to succeed. First-generation students are a vulnerable population, and we are proud to equip students with the tools to matriculate through UGA.”
“TRIO immediately paired me with a peer mentor, an older student who was first-gen too,” said Delaney. “I began hanging around the TRIO offices and building relationships, which have helped me throughout my time here.”
Carson Kuck was also the first member of his family to attend college. When he served as a new student orientation leader in 2019, he quickly realized there were several first-gen students like him eager to plug into the UGA community. This fall, Kuck launched First Gen Dawgs, an organization helping first-gen students connect across campus.
“I wanted to share what I had experienced as a first-gen student. UGA is here to help,” he said. “There are so many resources available, from fee waivers to recommendation letters. All you have to do is ask.”
With 2,277 undergraduate students self-identifying as first-gen in fall 2020, the Division of Academic Enhancement, in partnership with other units in the Office of Instruction, the Division of Student Affairs, Office of Institutional Diversity, Graduate School and the School of Law is growing and creating new programming initiatives through the UGA First Generation Committee.
“A coordinated campus-wide partner effort is vitally important for supporting first-generation students at UGA, as well as advancing our NASPA First Forward goals and extending the university’s abiding commitment to student success,” said Assistant Director for Initiatives and Chair of the UGA First Generation Committee Lindsay Coco.
First-gen students can find support this fall through new programs aimed at creating space for connection both emotionally and academically. Beginning in October, the University Health Center Counseling and Psychiatric Services will offer I’ll Go First, a four-week virtual series offering an informal space for first-generation college students to discuss shared experiences and ideas around belonging, imposter syndrome, intersecting identities and family communication.
To further expand recognition and honor success of first-generation students, this spring Alpha Alpha Alpha, a national first-generation honors society, will hold its inaugural induction, and First Gen Dawgs is planning a graduation ceremony.
Programs, such as 1st at the First, continue to offer support through regular workshops, now offered virtually, that provide a safe space to gain knowledge and confidence around academic life. UGA will recognize the national First Generation College Celebration Day, which falls each year on Nov. 8 and will celebrate the week of Nov. 2 with a series of virtual events for students, faculty and staff.
In her final year here on campus, Delaney remains involved with TRIO as a mentor and president of the TRIO Student Executive Board. She will graduate in August 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in public health and plans to go on to medical school. Meanwhile, Kuck, a fourth-year majoring in political science, is excited to see First Gen Dawgs’ successful launch this year and, after graduation in the spring, hopes to pursue his law degree.
There is an entire network of support for first-generation students at UGA. To learn more, visit firstgen.uga.edu.
Events for First Gen week:
Wednesday, Nov. 4 – 6:30 p.m.
First Gen Dawgs student group monthly meeting — First Gen Dawgs is an organization that will uplift and create community within the first-generation population on campus.
Zoom Link for meeting: https://zoom.us/j/8228558758
Wednesday, Nov. 4 – 1-4 p.m.
Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion (CDI): Supporting First-Generation College Student Success — The research on first-generation college students, although inconsistent in the use of the term, presents a consistent narrative on the challenges this population faces. In this interactive educational session, attendees will explore first-generation college student identity, challenges this population faces, and ways to support first-generation college students in the collegiate environment. This course serves as an elective for the Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion. Register at the Professional Education Portal (PEP).
Thursday, Nov. 5 – noon-1:30 p.m.
Candid Conversations: First Gen in Graduate School — Are you a first-generation graduate student? Come network and reflect with us and hear from Graduate School Dean Ron Walcott on his journey as a first-generation student.
Registration Link: https://gradstatus.uga.edu/Events/Register/4178
Thursday, Nov. 5 – 5-6:30 p.m.
I’LL Go First – Hosted by CAPS Clinician Shannon Bowles — For first-generation college students to have a space to discuss the unique challenges that they face on a university campus that may not be experienced by their peers.
Register at uhs.uga.edu.