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Supporting First-Generation College Students to Become Next-Generation Leaders

Recognized nationally as First-Generation College Celebration Day, Nov. 8 serves as a special tribute to first-generation college students, defined as individuals whose parents and/or guardians did not complete a four-year degree.

Recognized nationally as First-Generation College Celebration Day, Nov. 8 serves as a special tribute to first-generation college students, defined as individuals whose parents and/or guardians did not complete a four-year degree. 

The day of celebration was launched in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success. It commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which expanded access to higher education for low-income and first-generation students. The annual observance recognizes not only the successes of these students, but also their challenges, experiences and resilience in overcoming barriers as they navigate being the first in their families to pursue a college degree. 

RELATED: Commentary: The Importance of Investing in First-Generation College Students

— Cedric Howard, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services

Join the celebration! Follow the University of Northern Colorado’s Instagram account on Wednesday, Nov. 8 and hear from first-gen students about what being first means to them.

UNC’s first-gen students, faculty, staff members and alumni are invited to join the conversation and share their own experiences. 

More than 40% of UNC's undergraduate population identify as first-gen students and many of them take advantage of the robust resources and support systems the university has to offer. One of those resources includes the Center for Human Enrichment/Student Support Services program, which is a part of the national family of federally funded competitive TRiO programs that prioritize first-gen students in their pursuit of a college degree.  UNC's Soar program is another resource that provides personalized coaching to further facilitate academic success for first-gen students not served by TRiO programs. 

“Navigating things like signing up for classes and figuring out financial aid and things like that, can be pretty intimidating,” said first-gen student AlanaBlu Cooley, a sophomore majoring in Elementary Education who serves as a mentor to first-year Soar students.

“The Soar program swooped in there and helped me with all of these different challenges to be able to navigate these things and really feel comfortable and secure at UNC.” 

Hear from a few of UNC's first-gen students about what being first means to them and explore the list below highlighting some of the programs and resources that UNC provides to first-gen students that promote student success, including special scholarships and mentoring programs. 

First-Gen Student Resources and Programs

Center for Human Enrichment Student Support Services 

UNC’s Center for Human Enrichment Student Support Services (CHE) offers comprehensive services to support the academic, professional and personal success of first-gen students. The program, known by the shortened name of Student Support Services, is one of eight federal TRiO programs. It serves approximately 200 students, accepting 60-70 new students each year, who identify as first-gen and meet federal income guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education. The program strives to retain and graduate first-gen college students.  

Soar Program

Drawing on nearly five decades of data-driven insight, UNC’s Soar advising program expands the remarkable successes of the Center for Human Enrichment’s TRiO/Student Support Services (SSS) program. Soar takes flight, providing proactive academic advising and success coaching to a diverse range of students, with programming for Bears First, First Generation, Independent Youth, Denver Scholarship Foundation, and those exploring their academic major path.  

First-Generation Scholarship 

UNC’s First Generation Scholarshipis awarded to first-gen students demonstrating financial need. Completion of the UNC Scholarship Application is the only requirement to be considered for this scholarship. Thanks to generous donor support, the university has awarded 156 students more than $161,450 with this scholarship since 2018-19. During that time, 567 people have donated to the First-Generation scholarship. It's one of many scholarships available at UNC that supports first-gen students.

Stryker Institute for Leadership Development 

The Stryker Institute for Leadership Development serves women from underrepresented groups; approximately 90% of whom identify as first-generation students. The Stryker program gives students a full tuition financial scholarship that significantly helps alleviate the financial barriers that many of them experience. The program also allows students the opportunity to attend workshops that focus on identity development, social justice, leadership and mentorship. Through the workshop experience and cohort model, students build a strong sense of community and support.  

Learning Through Engaging and Authentic Practices Scholars 

Learning Through Engaging and Authentic Practices (LEAP) Scholars  are  first-gen biology or chemistry majors who aspire to become medical professionals. The LEAP Scholars program supports students, many of whom identify as students of color or are Pell grant recipients, in addition to being first-gen. The program employs high-impact practices that positively shape student success and offers academic and social support through a small network of advisors, faculty and near-peer mentors.

Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program  

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is a federally funded undergraduate TRiO program serving first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students. It is designed to provide undergraduate students with effective preparation for graduate-level study through research and scholarly activities, summer internships, seminars and workshops, mentoring, and assistance navigating graduate school admission processes.  

Reisher Scholars Program 

The Reisher Scholars Program awards scholarships to Colorado students based on demonstrated financial need and academic merit. The program, which focuses on rising college sophomores and transfer students from community colleges, seeks to help promising Colorado students earn their undergraduate degrees without incurring additional educational debt. It has been successful with student scholars earning higher GPAs, being retained and graduating at a higher rates than the general student population. The results show no achievement gaps for first gen and underrepresented minority students. 

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