In the coming week, we join other higher education institutions recognizing the National First-Generation College Celebration, an opportunity to revel in the successes of our students, faculty, and staff who are first in their families to attend college. UNLV will host several events from Nov. 6-13 to recognize and connect with members of our university community who are first-generation college students and graduates.
What does it mean to be a first-generation college student? It means you may not have a parent or family member who can answer questions about college life and experiences. You may not have money to pursue a degree, which makes grants, scholarships, and loans vital. You may not be able to stay in school, or finish in four — or even six — years because of commitments to family and the need to work. You may come from a military family or have served in the Armed Forces and are now transitioning to civilian life.
I come from a military family. I understand structure, hard work, and discipline; yet I went through a period where I struggled as a student. My dad went to school after starting a family —making me the first to go to college straight out of high school — so he didn’t always know how to help me navigate the challenges I faced. That experience made me feel like I didn’t belong in college but, instead of giving up, I asked for help. I’m glad I did because I found out that I wasn’t alone in needing support.
Nearly every student needs help from time to time, and that’s where our incredible faculty, staff, and other students come in. Academic support services, peer mentoring, the writing center, student organizations, and places like the Intersection and Student Diversity and Social Justice make a significant difference in building community. These places and people show our students — especially those who are first-generation — that everyone who wants to be here belongs here.
Earning a degree is a life-changing event, and for first-generation students, it also can change the lives of their families. Central to our mission is to improve lives through education. Every single student deserves to reach their utmost potential, regardless of their background, socio-economic status, race, gender identity, and experiences. As an urban research university with one of the most diverse undergrad populations in the country, our greatest purpose is to remove obstacles that stand in the way of dedicated students and get them to the finish line. So, let’s come together and show our students we support them, their success matters, and they belong at UNLV.