WSU celebrates National First‑Gen Day

Closeup of Candice Vittitoe on a study abroad trip to Rome.
Candice Vittitoe, a junior at WSU Vancouver, visited an ancient aqueduct during her First Gen Abroad trip to Rome last summer.

Washington State University is celebrating National First‑Gen Day on Wednesday, Nov. 8, by honoring the unique contributions and successes of its first‑gen students.

First at WSU is hosting a celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first floor of the CUB, and faculty, staff, and students can request a free “First‑Gen Proud” T‑shirt to help build awareness of the first‑gen community at WSU.

Over 35% of WSU students are first gen, and the university has numerous services and programs in place to support them. Among them is First Gen Abroad, a signature program in First at WSU that is having a major impact on its participants.

First at WSU Director Angie Klimko said First Gen Abroad participants have a 93% retention rate, and 96% of them graduate within 4 years. During the program they acquire cultural competency skills, gain exposure to other languages, and build a network of first‑gen WSU students with similar backgrounds, interests, and goals.

Despite the benefits of studying abroad, WSU data analyzed from the 2023 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) shows that just 6% of WSU seniors who studied abroad are first gen. Getting more first‑gen students involved, no matter their year in school or major, is something Klimko is working to change.

Since she started the First Gen Abroad program in 2015, over 160 WSU first‑gen students have studied in Costa Rica, Italy, and Spain.

“First Gen Abroad students not only experience academic, personal, and professional growth during their time in the program — they also have unique opportunities to encounter new cultures, explore new places, and meet new people,” Klimko said.

The first‑gen students who participated in last summer’s trip to Rome found the experience really valuable.

“I keep telling everyone who asks that my trip was amazing, fantastic, beautiful, and marvelous,” said Cristal Ibarra Mendez, a junior on the Pullman campus. “Those were the best five weeks I’ve ever had.”

WSU Tri‑Cities graduate Tiffany Cedillo said it was important for her as a first‑gen student to study abroad.

“No one in my family has traveled abroad, and I wanted to be the one to set an example for my younger siblings so they know they can study abroad someday, too,” Cedillo said.

Each step of the First Gen Abroad experience is supported by staff advisors who help students apply for the program, identify scholarships and grants, secure discounted flight rates, and travel with the group. Many students said they found these services critical to their experience.

“I was hesitant to sign up for the trip because I didn’t have the money,” said Ibarra Mendez. “The program advisors helped me apply for scholarships and that is what made it possible for me to go.”

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2024 First Gen Abroad trip to Seville, Spain, scheduled for May 25 to June 22.

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