University of Iowa receives national recognition for efforts supporting first-generation students

The University of Iowa will be a part of the inaugural First Forward workshop, recognizing it for initiatives involving first-generation students.


Katie Goodale

Aralia Ramirez addresses the audience during the First Gen Summit in the Main Lounge of the IMU on April 13, 2019. Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers moderated a panel of first generation undergraduates and graduates to discuss their experience being a first generation student at the university. (Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan)

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

After more than 40 years of emphasizing first-generation students, the University of Iowa will receive national recognition from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators for its initiatives involving first-generation students.

The UI will attend the inaugural First Forward workshop in Florida in June, where administrators will receive professional development and discuss initiatives for first-generation students that have been successful at other institutions.

To be a part of the program, the UI had to receive executive-level and institutional-level support, said Angela Lamb, the assistant director of academic support and retention. Associate Provost Tanya Uden-Holman and Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers agreed to support the efforts, Lamb said, which other institutions struggle to find.

Even after receiving the recognition, the UI hopes to continue and expand on initiatives focused on first-generation students with the assistance and knowledge of other institutions that are a part of the First Forward cohort, said Cody Pritchard, the TRiO Student Support Services project director.

“To have that recognition, I think it also opens up opportunities for us to improve and be even better now,” Pritchard said. “To be able to connect with the community of institutions across the country that are doing incredible work as well and provides an opportunity for all of us to learn together.”

The program will give the UI support for its initiatives, and it requires the university to report its progress at different benchmarks to help improve the programs, Lamb said.

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Most of the work on initiatives for first-generation students have been developed through the First-Generation Task Force, Pritchard said. The task force comprises people from different areas of campus and has focused on involvement in the National First-Generation Celebration, he said.

Next academic year, the UI will bring back the First-Generation Learning Living Community, but it will include a learning component with it through the Rhetoric Department, Lamb said.

“It’s not just going and learning about ourselves,” Lamb said. “We’re going because we want to serve first-generation students, and we want to serve the University of Iowa and bring that information back and really implement it.”

The First Generation Summit is a student-led initiative that has been implemented to support students with the identity. The event is in its second year; it brings speakers to address students who identify as first-generation as well as providing workshops for students to attend, First Generation Summit co-chair Alexia Sánchez said.

The UI has received feedback from other institutions looking to develop similar events, Sánchez said. The summit gives an opportunity for students with the first-generation identity to come together and build relationships, she said.

The summit this year focused on celebrating first-generation students, a theme that could be carried on throughout the UI, Sánchez said. Bringing in different university departments and collaborating on first-generation efforts, as well as including students in the conversations, would be beneficial for the future, she said.

“As a first-generation student, you’re not always able to go home and talk about college and have your parents relate to that because that’s something that they didn’t experience, so having supporters here on campus can definitely go a long way,” Sánchez said.