Promoting the first-generation experience

Giving first-generation Wildcats the support to make an impact at K-State

Ashley Weigel, a senior studying psychology and human development and family science, arrived at Kansas State University as the first member of her family to attend college. Not knowing many people who had experienced college and having many questions, Ashley immediately found support from the Office of First-generation Students.

Established just three years ago through the support of the Suder Foundation, the Office of First-generation Students gives first-generation Wildcats connections to essential resources, financial support, mentorship, tutoring, specialized courses and more.

The office hosts a variety of signature events that offer students an opportunity to come together and celebrate their experiences. Among these events are First-gen Friyays!, where students gather in the First-gen Lounge to build connections and foster community. Students participate in other social events such as a scavenger hunt with faculty and staff, trips to the pumpkin patch, ice skating and more.

First-generation students are honored through the National First-generation Student Celebration. During this week-long celebration, events include a student panel, teaching sessions for faculty to learn more about the first-generation experience and a recognition of first-generation athletes at a K-State football game. The office also celebrates first-generation students with a graduation celebration where they are presented with a green cord to wear to commencement as a symbol of their resiliency.

Another important resource for first-generation students is the opportunity for mentorship with a faculty or staff member who was also a first-generation student. This one-to-one support provides students a network across campus and support in their transition to college.

For Ashley, one of the events that made the greatest impact on her college experience was the First Scholars retreat. During this signature retreat, Ashley and other first-generation students spent the two days prior to the start of their freshman year preparing for the transition to college. Getting to meet other students who were also the first in their family to attend college helped Ashley know that she was not alone in her experience and she already had a group of people in her corner to help make her college experience a success.

“The Office of First-generation Students has been there for me since day one of college and has supported me every step of the way. They do a fantastic job of making each student feel important and capable of great things. I’m grateful for being able to work with them over these last four years.”

From help in navigating campus and managing classes to having the space to ask questions and get advice about school and life, Ashley has continued to find support from the Office of First-generation Students. One of the main things that the office provided Ashley were the resources to get involved on campus. Through events that connected her with other students and staff and one-on-one meetings with first-generation faculty, Ashley was given needed resources to become a leader and grow in confidence during her time at K-State.

“Attending college in itself is challenging, but it’s even more difficult for first-gen students who have to navigate and juggle class, work, paying for school, getting involved on campus, paying bills and figuring out what you want to do with your life all on your own. That’s where the Office of First-generation Students makes a huge difference.”

Rebeca Paz, assistant director of the Office of First-generation Students, plays an important role in supporting and advocating for first-generation student success. Rebeca creates awareness for the first-generation experience, mentors students, writes letters of reference and collaborates with campus partners to create opportunities for students. Rebeca focuses her work upon highlighting the strength of first-generation students and the ways in which they enrich K-State.

In just the three years since its founding, the Office of First-generation Students has already earned national acclaim. In 2019, the Office of First-generation Students joined nine other campuses through a leadership position within the National Association of Student Personnel Administrator’s Center for First-generation Student Success. K-State now plays a role in advancing first-generation student success on the national level. The Office of First-generation Students has also received First-Gen Forward Designation and is part of the First Scholars Network, which is an institutional community focused on first-generation success.

K-State’s commitment to advance first-generation student success as an institution is evident.  We have built a first-generation community and foster pride around the first-generation identity,” said Rebeca. “We have done a lot and we need to build more. We look forward to opportunities to build more connections and break systemic barriers.”

While there has been much growth within the Office of First-generation Students, there are still many opportunities to support first-generation students. Research indicates that one of the main reasons first-generation students do not complete their degree is because of financial barriers. With this problem prevalent at K-State, scholarship opportunities are essential in helping students devote time to their schoolwork and, in some cases, giving them the means to reach graduation. 

“Donors who support the Office of First-generation Students have a considerable impact on the students it serves. The first-gen office provides us with amazing mentors and fantastic resources,” said Ashley. “The faculty working in the first-gen office are always there to help us in any way possible. Simply put, I would not be where I am today or had such an amazing college experience if it wasn’t for the Office of First-generation Students, and none of that would be possible without the support of our generous donors. Your contributions are truly appreciated!”

For more information about the Office of First-generation Students, contact Rebeca Paz. To support the office, visit Kansas State University · GiveCampus or contact Heather Strafuss by email or at 785-775-2146.

Written by: Ariana Brancato

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