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University encourages use of first-gen resources

November 20, 2019

On Friday, Nov. 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., UW-River Falls hosted a first-generation resource fair with the hopes that students would reach out, ask questions, and become more aware of the resources that are available to them. 

This fair consisted of about 14 different organizations and programs on campus coming together to offer their services. Ability Services; the Honors Program; Student Involvement; Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity; Financial Aid; and Residence Life were all in attendance to name a few. The fair also included a slide show of faculty and staff of UWRF, who are first-gen, sharing a snippet of their story; as well as a ton of free giveaways, and a chance for students to share their stories. 

The definition of a first-generation student has some gray areas, but UWRF bases it on the parent’s college history. If a student’s parents did not go to college, finish college, or receive their bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, the student is considered to be first-gen. “I don’t know how to describe it because we don’t necessarily know it yet,” said Sara Peters, the assistant director of New Student and Family Programs. “It is a self-identified trait, so a lot of people do not know it and haven’t recognized it yet.”

Based on student admission applications, forty percent of the student body at UWRF is considered to be first-gen. This number may be higher, but many students are not aware of their first-gen status due to the complex definition. Emma Jorgensen, a freshman studying agricultural business and equine science, says, “I did not know I was first-gen because both of my parents attended college but didn’t finish it.” Developing relationships and connections is the first step when it comes to first-gen students. 

Many of these students struggle with the transition process, and simply don’t know how to handle obstacles in this new environment. Peters, who was a first-gen student, says, “It can make a difference when your family has insight, and first-gen students might not have that.” A lot of these students are struggling with how to find good support, especially when their families may be inexperienced. 

Besides the resource fair, there are other places first-gen students can go to ask questions and get information. All of the services that were present at the fair have offices that students can take advantage of. Students are encouraged to use these resources on campus to have the best college experience possible. Rachel Harris, a senior studying psychology and communications, gave future first-gen students advice,“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. You’re here for a reason. You belong here. Get involved, and make the best of your experience here.” 

The hope is that other students on campus can assist in making that environment a reality. Peters states, “Even for students who aren’t first-gen, there are so many unknowns. We have a really caring community of students that helps students persist and be successful.” 

Finding the support needed around campus can be difficult for a first-year student in general. For a first-gen student, regardless of the challenges faced within the college experience, it is important to keep in mind that UWRF strives to create a welcoming environment. First-gen students are doing something important, exciting, and making a lot of people proud.