By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
GREEN BAY – During First-Gen Celebration week, UW-Green Bay highlighted those making a positive impact for first-generation college students through the inaugural “First-Gen Impact Awards.”
“Over 50% of our undergrad population is first gen, so providing support for them to be successful is really important for the entire university community to be successful,” said Jackie Connell, UW-Green Bay’s first year experience manager and co-coordinator for first generation student success.
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Jennifer Jones said that compared to students who have had family members before them go to college, first-generation students often lack a support system to guide them through the process.
“First gen students don’t have the family knowledge or experience to know how to navigate this, how to ask for help or where to ask for help,” she said. “When you’re learning to drive a car, you go with somebody who knows how to drive a car and they teach you how to do that. When you don’t have that in college, you feel a little like, ‘Maybe I don’t belong here. Maybe I don’t have the knowledge that everybody else has in the room… I’m not making friends. I’m not feeling like this is for me and maybe it’s better if I just go to work.’ Often when I hear those things, I’m hearing that we need to make sure they have developed those connections early and that they are in safe places to make those connections and be proud to not know everything and to engage in those resources.”
Connell said it is important for first-generation students to know that there are people and organizations on campus that want to see them succeed and are there to help them along the way.
“I think a big thing first-generation students feel is a sense of ‘I don’t belong’ or an imposter syndrome,” she said. “You absolutely belong. You have every right to be here and you are just as capable of succeeding and reaching your goals as anyone else. Utilize campus resources. Ask for help. Take advantage of the programs, people and spaces that are available to you on a college campus. It’s very different from a high school setting and you have to advocate for yourself, but people are here to help you.”
To recognize first-generation students who have overcome the additional obstacles in their paths as well as the faculty, staff and organizations on UW-Green Bay’s campus that work to improve the experiences of first-generation students, UW-Green Bay hosted its first-ever First Gen Impact Awards.
Five awards were handed out during an awards ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 8 — Outstanding First-Gen Serving Program, Outstanding First-Gen Advocacy: Faculty, Outstanding First-Gen Advocacy: Staff, New Student Award and Student Leader Award.
Outstanding First-Gen Serving Program
The Outstanding First-Gen Serving Program recognizes “innovative initiatives that relate to programs, courses or services supporting first-generation students.”
New Scholars Rising was selected as the recipient of this award for its goal “to provide strength based mentoring to help close the retention gap for these historically under-retained populations” and the way it “continues to expand to meet the needs of students who are often the first in their family to navigate the college experience,” the nomination read.
“I was a first-gen student myself,” said Christine Smith, co-founder of New Scholars Rising. “If I’d had that (a program like New Scholars Rising) myself, I think that I would have had a better early experience and I’m hoping that’s what we can do for our students.”
Outstanding First Gen-Advocacy
Two Outstanding First-Gen Advocacy Awards were handed out — one to a faculty member and one to a staff member.
The awards recognize individuals who “have developed or enhanced an innovative first-gen-serving program, served as a mentor to first-gen students or developed training and professional development to enhance service to first-gen students.”
Lisa Lamson was selected as the winner of the faculty award.
Lamson’s nomination describes her as “a first generation college student herself, who expresses a passionate commitment to sharing her experiences with students to model that they, too, can graduate from college and be successful” and notes how she “passionately shared the importance of first-gen supports with other faculty and administrators to help advance first-gen-supporting practices at UW-Green Bay.”
Lamson said even being nominated for this award means a lot to her, since it means students are feeling supported by what she’s doing.
“It’s tremendously heartening, because they feel supported,” she said. “What we want is for them to feel supported and that they can advocate for themselves and that they can be worthy of occupying space on campus. It’s heartening to see that they’re receiving what we’re trying to put out.”
Nicole Becker was selected as the winner of the staff award.
Becker’s nomination describes her “exceptional commitment to enhancing the experience of first-generation students at UW-Green Bay through a multi-faceted approach that combines innovative programming, dedicated mentorship and impactful advocacy” as well as her “unwavering dedication to the personal and academic growth of first-gen students.”
New Student Award
The New Student Award recognizes “an exceptional new student who has pursued and met ambitious goals and made notable achievements during their first year, demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and created pathways or inspired other first-gen students to also excel at UW-Green Bay.”
The recipient of the New Student Award is Jocelin Ramos, whose nomination describes the way she “exhibits keen interest in community engagement and social justice issues and shows so much promise as a campus and community leader who cares deeply for social change, equity and justice for all.”
When she realized she’d be receiving the award, Ramos said, “I got a little emotional…“I’m very thankful.”
Student Leader Award
The Student Leader Award recognizes “a student leader who has pursued and met ambitious personal and professional goals while demonstrating a commitment to academic excellence and campus engagement during their time at UW-Green Bay.”
The recipient of the Student Leader Award is Adan Cordova.
Cordova’s nomination describes him as “a non-traditional student who has been able to balance his academics while also being very involved in his family as the proud father of three young sons. An immigrant from Hungary, he didn’t believe he was going to be able to succeed in college, but he persevered and will soon earn his bachelor’s degree with an impressive GPA that will make him an ideal candidate for his next adventure — medical school.”
In his time at UW-Green Bay, Cordova has served as a mentor for New Scholars rising and sits on the board of the pre-med club, in addition to sharing his story in marketing videos and as a guest speaker to a panel of parents of children in the College Ready program.
“I feel lucky because people around me are helping me,” he said. “I’m proud to be here and to be a part of UW-Green Bay — to be part of the family.”