CSU honors first-generation legacy

Charlotte Lang

Colorado State University was the first university to identify and provide scholarships for first-generation students and it intends to honor this legacy by recognizing and acknowledging those students.

At the “First Gen at CSU: Past, Present & Future” panel, higher education speakers gathered to discuss the importance of the University’s first-generation initiative and how faculty or staff can help continue its legacy by helping first-generation students feel supported.

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The panel included retired TRIO directors Andrea Reeve, Marilyn Thayer and Paul Thayer, as well as Associate Vice President for Diversity Oscar Felix.

TRIO is a collection of programs funded through the U.S. Department of Education to aid low-income families, first-generation students and individuals with disabilities in their academic life. It references the three main programs created to achieve this goal: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services.

…We really have tried to lead and take seriously what we value about first-generation students.”

Paul Thayer, retired TRIO director and associate vice president for student success

Juan Rivas from the University’s Outreach and Support hosted and recorded the event to be posted as a podcast later in the weekend.

The panelists shared their stories as first-generation students and discussed the history, experiences and value of being first-generation students.

“I think it’s so important that we are clear that first-generation is not a replacement or a substitute or a new identity. It’s not intended to be a primary identity for any particular person,” Paul Thayer said. “But it is one of the identities that can be very important with a lot of others.”

First-generation is defined as a student whose parents have not completed a bachelor’s degree, Paul Thayer said.

According to the Vice President for Diversity’s 2010-2018 Progress Report, one in four CSU students is a first-generation student. The First Generation University Initiative’s goal is to unify and expand efforts across campus dedicated to serving first-generation students.

CSU became the first university in the nation to offer scholarships for first-generation students, according to the report. Approximately 25 percent of CSU students have been the first in their family to earn college degrees.

The panelists discussed the significance of helping these students because entering college is often like entering a new world for those who are first-generation.

“For first-generation students, it’s a whole new experience. You have so many stories of students who are not even knowing the language,” Reeves said, referring to the difficulties of understanding new academic terms and language in materials such as syllabi or rubrics.“There are differences.”

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The focus on aiding these students should come from faculty making them feel comfortable from the very beginning, Marilyn Thayer said.

She said there are many opportunities for faculty or staff to show their commitment to these students so they can be successful. Some examples given were the Academic Recovery Program and the Graduate School Program for TRIO students. Here, faculty can share their stories and experiences of being first-generation students.

A panel discussion
Juan Rivas, Paul Thayer, Andrea Reeve, Marilyn Thayer, and Oscar Felix held a panel style discussion on first generation students on December 6, 2018. The panel took questions from the audience and was part of a podcast that is hosted by Juan Rivas. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

“Narratives are important,” Marilyn Thayer said. She continued to say that her hope for the first-generation community in the University is for faculty to understand and use these opportunities.

Reeve echoed this hope, saying that it would make sense for faculty to acknowledge the presence of first-generation students by opening up to them and growing the initiative.

“It’s important for them to know the language of the University and to not feel as if they’ve been invited into a ‘special community,’” Reeve said. “I hope that the faculty initiative would continue to grow.”

Paul Thayer’s said his hope extends to the University as a whole. His wish is for first-generation students to be recognized as a vital part of who CSU is and that they become part of the University’s identity.

“We’re named one of the best colleges for first-generation students,” Thayer said. “I think it’s really nice, but even nicer is that, underneath that, we really have tried to lead and take seriously what we value about first-generation students.”

Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @chartrickwrites.