First Generation Student College Day is a national day in which universities celebrate first generation students on their campuses. This appreciation day is falling on Friday, Nov. 8. Kristin Austin, the assistant director of new student & family orientations, and Rebecca Willoughby, a professor in the department of academic enrichment, are the main supporters in bringing more awareness to first generation students to Bloomsburg’s campus.
Austin says, “We were looking for a way to fall in line with something that was already taking place at a national level. If there is a national movement for this than we should definitely get in on it because Bloomsburg has a big first generation population.”
First generation students on a college campus can face many challenges, such as not being accustomed to college culture. There is a lot of terminology only used on campuses that you have to learn and get used to, so it makes it more difficult when you have no one in your family to share these experiences with.
These includes words like electives, meal plans, prerequisite, course number or office hours. All of these terms would be difficult for first generation students to understand when they first move to a college campus. “Unless you have been to college or a parent has been there is no way for you to know these hidden things that are very specific to having that college experience. Everyone who comes to college has transition challenges, but first generation student’s challenges are magnetized because they have no one at home to call for help from someone who has gone through it,” Austin says.
Our very own Dr. Willoughby was a first generation student at Bloomsburg University. She mentioned how she too struggled with college culture, such as navigating through financial aid.
“I also think that knowing I was first generation motivated me to do well academically— I saw the education I was getting as a privilege because it was more than other folks in my family had experienced. Now that I am here in a faculty role, it certainly makes me want to help our students learn and achieve. I am really grateful for my work here in that capacity,” Willoughby says.
“First generation students have strengths, even though they might not have content knowledge about college they often have a lot of family and friends who support them. When you educate a first generation student you generate a generation. It only takes one person to interrupt the cycle of lack of education,’’ says Austin.
Bloomsburg University’s campus has also welcomed a new honor society this semester specifically for first generation students, Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri Alpha). This was created to bring students who are the first of their family to come together and support one another.