Last week, the university chose for the first time to take an entire week, rather than just a single day, to celebrate and uplift the stories and accomplishments of first-generation students, joining a host of other universities around the nation.
Nearly 25% of the UA undergraduate student population identifies as first-generation, meaning that their parents, guardians or support system did not graduate from a four-year institution. Those students often do not have the support of their parents’ first-hand experiences to guide them through college life and on a path to success. Many are also considered non-traditional students, meaning they do not follow the traditional path of entering college for four years immediately after high school.
One of the first events of the week was a lunch panel with first-generation student mentors, in which fellow students asked members of the panel how to make the best of their college experience. Many of the panelists and attendees agreed on the importance of self-advocacy and the need for a support system for first-gen students arriving on campus.
Madison Price, a junior and Path Scholar, was one of the three panelists. During the panel, she took time to thank her mentors and reflect on some of the achievements and struggles that she has faced and overcome.
“It is always great to validate feelings and thoughts on being a first-generation college student,” Price said after the event. “So many of us could relate to the topics that were discussed. It is difficult to navigate college for anyone, especially for a first-generation college student. I overcame my fears of being alone in this process. Fayetteville became my second home in a matter of weeks.”
Many first-generation students come from areas of the state where very few graduating high schoolers opt to attend a four-year institution. Having the courage and confidence to tackle the college experience is an achievement to be celebrated, multiple panelists said.
On Tuesday, the Connections Lounge in the Union was decked out with free food and merchandise, a photo booth and boards displaying the success stories of first-gen students, staff, and alumni.
Celena Sabillon, a freshman and Path Scholar, expressed her appreciation for the events.
“They helped me feel more like I was a part of campus and like I was appreciated,” Sabillon said. “I feel like the University of Arkansas really cares about every kind of student here, and they try to show that through these events…I feel like I have a family away from home.”
Other events throughout the week included a personal branding workshop, a cooking class coordinated by the Volunteer Action Center, a program highlighting first-generation entrepreneurs and a revamped version of the weekly Honors College Recess, all of which were held to provide resources to these students and give them a moment to celebrate such a momentous achievement.
However, support for first-generation students did not stop once the celebration ended. Sabillon cited a multitude of organizations and programs, including the Multicultural Center, Accelerate Student Achievement Program, and the Honors College, that have helped her find her place on campus.
“I’ve been connected with all kinds of amazing people, and as an honors student, you get so much love and support personally and academically. As I’ve always said, it’s not a Gearhart, it’s a Gearhome,” Sabillon said, referring to the home of the Honors College on campus, Gearhart Hall.
Toward the end of Monday’s panel, the participants gave advice to fellow first-generation students. In one of her final statements, Price noted the importance of believing in and being proud of their accomplishments.
“My advice would be to go for any and all of your dreams and aspirations.” Price said. “Not just that, but be proud to be a first-generation college student. That is an amazing accomplishment.”