1st Gen

College-life brings many new challenges and obstacles for students.

For most, comfort is found through reassurances from parents or family members who have taken the journey before them.

However, not all students have this luxury. 

First-generation students are the first members of their families to attend a four-year college or university.

With a growing national awareness of the importance of first generation students to campus communities, English professor Mary-Catherine Harrison helped to create the 1stGen@UDM program.

Partnering nationally with the I’m First! program, 1stGen@UDM was created to connect first-generation students with faculty and to have their stories heard.

“First-generation students are an extremely important part of higher education,” Harrison said.  “One-third of college students are the first in their generation to go to college.”

Jeffrey Lane, a student leader of the UDM group, is aware of the significance of being the first in his family to go to college.

“It’s a big deal,” Lane said. “There’s a lot of pressure added to anyone going through this. You want to succeed and change the path for future generations. That’s why I think this program is great.”

Lane said that by starting a program like this, first-generation students are able to meet, interact and share their experiences with one another.

“It lets us know we are not alone,” Lane said. “Meeting other students with similar experiences may give some people the reassurance they need to keep going.”

Students are not the only members.

UDM also has a large first-generation faculty population, as well.

“I was surprised at the number of faculty members who were first in their families to attend college, too,” Harrison said. “Having them be a part of this program only strengthens its integrity. Students are able to interact with their professors knowing they once encountered similar challenges.”

Jason Roche, a communication studies professor, is among them.

“One of my biggest challenges in college was seeing so many people different from me and not always fitting in,” he said. “I think this program is great because it gives students another chance to fit in and feel like they belong to something greater than themselves. I hope that with the encounters students have and the friendships they make, it will give them that extra push they need to finish their degree.”

In an attempt to connect more first-generation students and faculty, both on-campus as well as nationally, 1stGen@UDM has been hosting lunches and events for first-generation students.

“Don’t underestimate the power of someone sharing their story,” Harrison said. “When someone is able to open up and share their story or their hardships with someone else, the experience can be cathartic for both sides.”

For more information on how to get involved, email Harrison at mc.harrison@udmercy.edu.