Nov. 8 is the recognized date for the annual First-Generation College Celebration which honors the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that helped create federal grants and loan programs to assist students in funding their education in addition to investing in institutions of higher education. It also allowed for programs such as federal TRIO Programs to provide support with postsecondary access, retention and college graduation for limited-income, first-generation college students.
As part of the celebration, first-generation Southeast students — defined by having neither parent with a bachelor’s degree – will be showcased on the University’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages. First-generation students at Southeast are encouraged to send a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org to participate and be featured in the online celebration.
Southeast freshman Hannah Burr, of St. Louis, Missouri, said being a first-generation college student requires an open mind.
“You must be a trailblazer and a leader,” the corporate communications major said. “You also must admit what you do not know and be willing to find answers. It is not easy, but I never expected college to be easy. I know many first-generation college students and the ones that I see finding success are both bold and courageous about their goals.”
Southeast’s celebration continues Nov. 11 with its inaugural First-Generation College Celebration Day by convening a campus and community committee designed to focus on first-generation student success. The committee consists of students, faculty, staff and members of the Cape Girardeau community, who will plan and coordinate activities, programming and workshops designed to highlight a growing population of students.
The committee’s first charge will be to develop and execute the first slate of activities in spring 2021 and plan a full-scale celebration for fall 2021.
Southeast already provides direct support to first-generation students through targeted programs within the newly created Equity, Access, and Behavioral Health (EABH) division. These programs provide individualized support to students and include Educational Access Programs, TRIO Student Support Services and the McNair Scholars Program. There are also University resources including University Tutoring, Advising, Supplemental Instruction (SI), student employment, study labs, open labs, faculty office hours and educational and supportive resources through Kent Library, among many others.
The University’s goal is to highlight and actively assist first-generation students to successfully navigate their collegiate experience at Southeast. To that end, Southeast wants to hear from first-generation students, faculty, staff, administrators, alums and community members regarding their experiences to provide a pathway to success for current and future first-generation Redhawks.
Charles Blackmon, a senior majoring in social work, said he grew up in a moderate-income community in St. Louis, and took a chance on an application to Southeast.
“Since becoming a college student, I have learned a lot,” Blackmon said. “Many of my achievements are grounded in support from my teachers, staff and mentors that I have connected with along the way. Because of hard work, effort and guidance from the community, I am now preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and excited to pursue a master’s degree.”
Southeast freshman and business administration student Sheanique Syms, of St. Louis, said she is a proud first-generation student creating her own path.
“I am thankful that Southeast is giving me an opportunity to strive toward success and find my potential,” Syms said. “No one in my family has completed a college degree and I am looking forward to that accomplishment. I am willing to learn, ask for help when needed and recognize that there’s no limitations to my greatness.”
Nationally, approximately 56% of students were first-generation college students during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to data by the Center for First-Generation Student Success.
To provide support to the national dialogue surrounding first-generation college student success, Southeast will participate in events provided by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA).