On November 8th colleges and universities celebrate their students, faculty, and staff who are first-generation college students. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, this day was chosen in honor of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (n.d.). This act helped Americans of minority and low-income communities by creating federal grants and loan programs to help finance their degrees. In addition, the well-known TRIO program, seen at many colleges and universities, was also created under this act.
A first-generation college student is characterized as someone who is the first in their family to attend college. Using data from the Center for First-Generation Student Success fact sheets in academic year 2015-2016 it is clear that first-generation students are a population that continues to persist through higher education, but not without struggle. Students whose parents had no postsecondary education, resulted in 24% of first-generation college students and parents with no bachelor’s degree accounted for 56% of undergraduates (RTI International, 2019). When looking at graduation rates, first-generation students whose parents did not hold a bachelor’s degree accounted for 42% of college graduates (RTI International, 2021). Additionally, first-generation students were about 10% less likely than continuing-generations students to hold a paid internship. Interestingly, the percentage of first-generation students aged 30 or above is 28% (RTI international, 2019) This points to a need to serve a more non-traditional population of first-generation student in higher education settings and meet them where they are. With regard to graduate education, a lower percentage of first-generation students expected to achieve a graduate degree than did continuing-generation students (RTI International, 2021).
The GPSI Program has interns from many different educational backgrounds; some of which some are first-generation college students. One of our interns includes Koushik Neelakantam, an international student from Pradesh, India. He is currently earning his master’s degree in Computer Science and serves as an intern for the Department of Innovation and Technology in the Enterprise Application Services division. Koushik received his undergraduate degree from Vellore Institute of Technology, in the field of engineering. Being a first-generation student, Koushik comes from a humble background where education symbolized a door to new beginnings. He was encouraged by family and other supporters to pursue higher education. His education provided a wider perspective for him and his family, helping to uplift living and educational barriers weighing them down. In addition, Koushik was able to share his knowledge and efforts to his community in the most productive way, while also becoming financially independent and stable. Right now, Koushik is pursuing a path in operations and strategy management. He envisions working with leading consulting firms globally, and in the future, hopes to become an independent operations and strategy entrepreneurial business owner. His ultimate life goal is to make his family proud and to be the best in whatever he does.
Another intern, Tyrese Reed, is originally from San Diego, California, but calls New Orleans, Louisiana home. He serves as an intern for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services in the Labor division. Tyrese received his undergraduate degree from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. To him, being a firs-generation college student means being the change he wants to see. It is a means of creating a blueprint that will allow him to go back home, where going to college is not common, and teach the youth to follow their dreams. As for Tyrese’s future plans, he does not yet know. For the longest time, he thought he would be attending law school, but decided to pursue his master’s degree in Legal Studies first. Tyrese feels that as long as he is doing something that he is passionate about and working towards a better future for the people who look like him and does not get the same chance, then he is working on his ultimate goal.
Our third featured intern is Parag Sachdeva, an international student from Bhattu Kalan, Haryana, India. He is currently earning his master’s degree in Legal Studies and serves as an intern for the Illinois State Police in the Office of Firearms division. Parag received his undergraduate degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. For Parag, being a first-generation college student means not only opening unlimited doors of opportunities for him and his family, but also setting a great example for all first-generation students of his hometown village back in India. Parag grew up with friends and other individuals who did not have access, nor the means for a quality college education. Thus, Parag wishes to empower them, either directly or indirectly, to fully achieve what they deserve and are capable of. As for Parag’s future plans, his goals include running a multinational consultancy company, working for the federal government, becoming a law/policymaker, or anything in-between. Parag says he would have to see where his life, law, and teachings and experiences ultimately take him.
At UIS, the Diversity Center offers a program for first-generation undergraduate students, named the Necessary Steps Mentoring Program or NSMP. This program was created to help with the transition of first-generation students from high school to college life. Necessary Steps not only transforms students into scholars, but does so by pairing them with an experienced Necessary Steps student. Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more about the many factors that contribute the success of a first-generation college student, the Center for First-Generation Student Success, provides these statistics along with other facts sheets based on demographics, experiences, use of services among freshman students, and employment.
Center for First-generation Student Success. (n.d.). First-Generation College Celebration. https://firstgen.naspa.org/engagement/first-generation-college-celebration.
RTI International. (2019). First-generation College Students: Demographic Characteristics and Postsecondary Enrollment. Washington, DC: NASPA. Retrieved from https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-01.pdf
RTI International. (2021). First-generation College Graduates: Race/Ethnicity, Age, and Use of Career Planning Services. Washington, DC: NASPA. Retrieved from https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-011.pdf
RTI International. (2021). First-generation College Graduates’ Enrollment After Earning a Bachelor’s Degree. Washington, DC: NASPA. Retrieved from https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-03.pdf
RTI International. (2021). First-generation College Graduates’ Participation in Extracurricular and Co-curricular Activities as Undergraduate Students. Washington, DC: NASPA. Retrieved from https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-021.pdf
Jocelyn Fluker has an Honors Bachelors degree of Science in Psychology from Indiana State University, and is pursuing her Master’s in Human Development Counseling at UIS. Jocelyn also serves as a Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) for the Office of Graduate Intern Programs, serving as the Social Innovation Intern.