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Boeing gift strengthens first‑gen student programs

Students at the 2019 SHAPING Conference dancing in unison.
Boeing’s gift will help students attend the SHAPING Conference, shown here in 2019, and two others created for underrepresented and first-generation students.

Several Washington State University programs that support the success of first-generation students will share a $100,000 gift from The Boeing Company.

Kim Holapa, associate vice president for external engagement and strategic initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs, said half of the gift will directly support First at WSU initiatives, including today’s celebration of National First-Generation Day. The other half will be used to strengthen student leadership conferences and mentoring programs.

When developing the funding proposal for Boeing, Holapa and Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and inclusive excellence in the Division of Student Affairs, chose programs that can scale up and have a major impact on improving the experience of first-gen students.

“These first-gen initiatives really resonated with Boeing, and I’m excited they decided to support them in this way,” Holapa said.

Increasing sense of belonging

WSU communities will begin to see the impact of Boeing’s gift today with its sponsorship of two key components of the university’s National First-Generation Day celebration: the “First in the Field Panel – Navigating STEM as a First Gen-Student” and the keynote address by Teresa Blanco Olympio, senior director of One Boeing Production System supporting Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication. These two events will available to all WSU campuses via Zoom. Visit the First at WSU website to see all the planned activities.

Angie Klimko

According to Angie Klimko, the director of First at WSU, the celebration is an excellent opportunity for WSU to recognize its first-gen students, faculty, and staff and, at the same time, educate the community about the challenges first-gen students often face in higher education. First at WSU aims to increase collaboration and innovation across the WSU system to improve the student experience for first-generation students. 

Klimko said the gift comes at a great time because she and colleagues across the WSU system are discussing ways to help first-generation students build more connections with peers, advisors, faculty, staff, and alumni.

“This gift will help us cultivate an institutional culture through coaching and mentoring that builds greater confidence and self-advocacy among first-gen students,” Klimko said. “This will better prepare them for the workforce.”

A life-changing experience

The second part of Boeing’s gift adds support for WSU’s student leadership conferences. Guided by the Associated Students of Washington State University, student leaders plan and run the Children of Aztlan Sharing Higher Education, Shaping High School Asian Pacific Islanders for the Next Generation, and Visionaries Inspiring Black Empowered Students conferences.

The conferences educate students about the benefits of higher education and the resources available to help them attend and succeed in college. Holapa said Boeing’s gift will help more students attend the conferences free of charge, allowing them to participate in what some describe as a life-changing experience.

“The prospective students get to see WSU students in leadership roles, and they begin to envision themselves taking on similar roles,” she said. “Since WSU students plan everything for the conferences, from housing to meals to transportation to programming, they get a unique learning experience not duplicated anywhere else.” 

‘Right thing to do’

Boeing has been a longtime supporter of WSU’s Team Mentoring Program, a collaborative initiative that provides financial assistance, mentorship, and research opportunities for students of color in STEM disciplines. This gift broadens its support within Student Affairs to include the student mentoring programs in Multicultural Student Services, the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center and the Access Center.   

MSS Director Steve Bischoff said the gift will provide stipends for additional mentors and boost collaborative outreach to mentees.

Craig Bomben, vice president for Flight Operations, Design Build/Supply Chain Management, Company Chief Pilot, and Boeing Test and Evaluation, said investing in WSU’s efforts to recruit and retain diverse students helps create a workforce that positions his company for long-term success in Washington and around the world.

“It is also the right thing to do,” Bomben said. “It excites me to think about the leadership opportunities, mentorship, and the ways this gift can celebrate first-generation Cougs.”

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