Several events, Nov. 2-9, allow Washington State University to join in the national celebration of a key population segment–first-generation students, the Office of Academic Engagement (OAE) said.

Across three dates, the OAE will host a story share on social media, a faculty roundtable on student support, and a presentation by an accomplished alumnus. All events are free and open to the public. The OAE is part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement, in the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.

“There are first-gen celebrations planned nationally around this time, and we joined in because we realize that there are thousands of WSU students systemwide who identify as first-gen,” said Ray Acuña Luna, director for OAE’s College Access Programs.

First-generation is defined as any student whose parents did not graduate with a bachelor’s degree. At WSU, of the 25,470 undergraduates systemwide in fall 2020, 9,062 or 35.5% are identified as first-generation students.

“We planned our events around the Nov. 8 national day of celebration,” Acuña Luna. “That date in 1965 is when the Higher Education Act was signed into law, intended to help Americans from minority and lower incomes get a college degree.”

OAE Events Nov. 2, 6, and 9

Acuña Luna said details about OAE and other first-gen events are available on the OAE’s website. Those interested can register for the following:

Starting on Mon., Nov. 2, faculty, staff, alumni and students can express support by signing up to receive and wear a #CELEBRATEFIRSTGEN lapel pin in a photo. They can then share a brief story on social media about their own first-gen experience.

On Fri., Nov. 6, from 3:00-4:15 p.m., three faculty will discuss ways for educators to support academic engagement for first-gen students. Professors Samantha Swindell, psychology, Anna Plemons, digital technology and culture at WSU Tri-Cities, and Amy Nusbaum, psychology at Heritage University, will discuss their co-authored paper, “Kindness at First Sight: The Role of Syllabi in Impression Formation.”  Swindell is also associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Plemons is assistant vice chancellor at WSU Tri-Cities. Nusbaum earned three degrees from WSU.

On Mon., Nov. 9, from 4:30-5:30 p.m., alumnus Jordan Frost will present, “Personal and Institutional Barriers for Academic Achievement.” Frost (’18 B.A. psychology, ’19 Master’s in Teaching) is a former president of the Associated Students of Washington State University student body and served as a WSU student regent. Currently, he is a social studies teacher and activities director at Issaquah High School. In his speech, he will describe personal and institutional barriers he overcame, and offer advice for students to become academically engaged at WSU, said Acuña Luna.

First-gen student characteristics

Acuña Luna noted that first-gen students have many strengths. They are innovative, entrepreneurial, and resourceful at figuring out complex systems. Since many lack role models, they are self-motivating.

“They need to be, otherwise they would struggle far more,” he said.

Acuña Luna is himself a first-gen student. He came to WSU and worked while enrolled in studies part-time; he earned his master’s in education degree and is currently working on his Ph.D. in cultural studies. He overcame his own first-gen trials by helping others—directing students to resources and helping create spaces where they could share experiences.

OAE and more first-generation resources

“I particularly enjoy my work in the OAE because we offer many resources to first-gen and other students and we celebrate their accomplishments. Our student-support programs are top quality. And, we, at the university, are all better because of them.

“OAE events are part of a system-wide collaborative effort,”Acuña Luna said.

The OAE website offers additional information about first-generation student celebrations throughout the month of November.