First-Generation Student Success through Leadership

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Elizabeth Hammond

July 3, 2019

My current role as the Program Coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion allows me the opportunity to provide support for first-generation college students. Our institution defines the first-generation identity as “the first in your family to attend college, or the first in your family to attend a college in the United States”. Our Center for Diversity and Inclusion oversees support for students of color, DACA/undocumented, LGBTQIA+, and first-generation student populations. As the first-generation student experience recently came into our Center’s purview, we are building a foundation for the support for this population. As I look at research around the first-generation student experience in higher education, I am consistently finding my passion for student leadership wanting to come into the conversation. 

An important piece of the research around the first-generation student experience I am finding includes the importance of looking at an assets-based framework as opposed to a deficit-based framework. How are we empowering our first-generation student populations through an assets-based lens? I believe student leadership opportunities and engagement can be a transformative opportunity for empowerment. 

As I am beginning to explore first-generation student success through a student leadership lens, I invite you to think about the following questions in your role: 

  • What is the student leadership philosophy at my institution, and how does it apply to the first-generation college student experience? 

  • What resources are available for first-generation students, and how can the institution leverage student leadership opportunities to add to the resource needs of the population? 

  • What are the conversations across academic and student affairs around the first-generation student experience? 

  • What types of funding are available for direct first-generation student support at your institution? 

  • How do you empower each individual first-generation student through student leadership opportunities at your institution? 

As a student affairs professional, I believe context is everything. I am at a small, private, liberal arts, and predominantly White institution (PWI) located in the South. The academic rigor and motivation of our students is exceedingly high. As I am looking into research and benchmarking other institutions, I have to understand that the context of our support for first-generation students is very important. As I move forward in building the foundation of support I also have to think about and ask questions around the institution’s dynamics, history and policies to make informed decisions around support for our first-generation student population. Moving forward, I hope to learn from others in how they empower first-generation students through leadership opportunities while keeping in mind the context behind their role and institution. 

The Student Leadership Programs Knowledge Community conference events team is exploring the topic of equity and access to higher education this upcoming year. As we think about empowering first-generation students through leadership opportunities, I believe this population will be pertinent in conversations around equity and access to higher education. In this lifelong journey of learning, I hope you’ll join me in conversations around first-generation student success through leadership. 

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