UI to give out new awards to recognize achievements of first-generation students

The UI will give out awards on Nov. 8 to celebrate achievements of its first-generation student population.


Emily Wangen

Academic Support and Retention assistant director Angie Lamb poses for a portrait outside of Calvin Hall on Sept. 19, 2019.

Mitchell Griffin, News Reporter

When Angela Lamb was a college student — the first in her family to pursue higher education — she said she initially struggled.

Now, she said that experience motivates her to advocate for first-generation students facing a similar journey. 

“If I can help just one student to not struggle like I did, then I’ve won,” said Lamb, the University of Iowa assistant director of Academic Support & Retention. 

In recognition of its first-generation population, the UI will host its first 1stGen@Iowa Awards ceremony Nov. 8. The week leading up to the award ceremony will be filled with celebration for the first-generation community nationwide.

According to UI fall 2018 enrollment data, first-generation undergraduates comprise 23 percent of enrolled students. Lamb said a goal of hosting such an event is to increase awareness of first-generation status as an identity that deserves to be celebrated.

“[The award’s purpose is] to recognize achievements, and in the process recognize faculty and staff helping to ensure success,” Lamb said.

The awards include the First-Generation Student Achievement Award to one undergraduate and one graduate student and the Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy to one faculty member and one staff member.

“Anything I’ve done related to the initiative, I’ve been blown away by the support and interest from members of the campus,” Lamb said. “This campus is so supportive, and it always amazes me the amount of support from this community. It’s not just the undergrads; it’s truly campus-wide.”

Iowa’s success as an institution recognizing its first-generation population hasn’t necessarily been mirrored elsewhere, Lamb said.

“It’s something other colleges have struggled to find their footing in,” she said of supporting first-generation communities. 

Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Tanya Uden-Holman said the task force plays a vital role in the future of UI first-generation students.

Related: UISG honors first-generation college students at ‘I’m the First’ event

“[The First Generation Task Force] has helped us all consider how our policies and practice impact students who may not have the same social and cultural capital of students whose parents attended college,” Uden-Holman said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Cody Pritchard, project director of TRIO Student Support Services, said his department and the First Forward team are additional initiatives that focus on helping first-generation students thrive. The First Generation Task Force was developed through the work of a team of students and faculty, Pritchard said.

He added that the idea to offer the awards came from the task force, which he described as very broad and far-reaching.

“It was a conversation of, ‘How do we celebrate?’ ” he said. “Not only celebration with a week [of events], but to say look at these incredible things that are happening around us that are connected to this first-generation identity.”

Lamb, Pritchard, and UI senior Alexia Sánchez are all first-generation students.

“I didn’t know I was a first-gen,” Pritchard said. “It wasn’t until I got to grad school that I actually learned what it meant to be a first-generation college student. I had that ‘a-ha’ moment of, ‘That makes so much sense [as to] why there were things that happened that I was clueless to.’ ”

Sánchez, who co-directed the First-Generation Summit this spring and has worked closely with Lamb on the task force, said it isn’t uncommon for first-generation students to not recognize what that identity means.

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

From a student perspective, Sánchez agrees with Lamb and Pritchard on the importance of the 1stGen@Iowa Awards.

“I think [the awards] are really special in the fact that they are celebrating an identity that has been in the shadows for a very long time and we’re definitely able to see a cultural change here on campus,” Sánchez said. 

She also said she recognizes the role the UI plays in raising awareness of the first-generation identity.

“Other institutions and universities across the nation are looking at Iowa because of what we’re doing, what we’ve been doing, and where we’re going in the future,” Sánchez said.