Cathy Gabell at First Gen Event

UNL lecturer Cathy Gabell is pictured on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at the Nebraska Union in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln program is helping students embrace being the first in their family to attend college by giving them the resources they need to succeed.

First Generation Nebraska was first created in the fall of 2017 by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor, according to its website. It works to acknowledge the hardships first generation students face in coming to college and help smooth the transition for them, according to Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education.

“It takes a lot of grit and resilience to come to college when you don’t have the path paved for you,” Goodburn said. 

The program’s mission is to provide access and opportunity to all first generation students, who make up around 24% of campus, according to Goodburn. It provides resources, including study tips, networking opportunities and programs and events to ensure first generation students can live up to their full potential. 

First Generation Nebraska celebrated national First Generation Day last week by hosting events including a faculty breakfast, a workshop, a meal for current first generation students and alumni, free donuts and a fair in the Nebraska Union. 

“It’s designed to promote first generation identity and to make it visible so that students can be proud that they are first gen,” Goodburn said.

First Gen Nebraska offers social and educational events throughout the year for students and staff. Twice a year, they host a Share A Meal event to allow students to network with first generation faculty and alumni. Incoming first generation freshmen are invited to attend First Husker, a three-day workshop that introduces students to the campus and its resources. 

“[First Husker] was a good chance to meet people early on, move in early and just get a lot of resources and relate to people who are also first gen,” Walter Fitzsimmons, a freshman advertising and public relations major and first generation student, said.

First generation freshmen also take a course during their first semester where they learn skills like how to address emails to professors, how to succeed in a big lecture hall and how to utilize a syllabus, Fitzsimmons said. 

There are also several workshops and presentations for faculty to learn more about how to provide first gen students with the tools they need to succeed, Goodburn said.

Many students whose parents didn’t attend college come to campus without a solid idea of what college is really like, Goodburn said.

“Most of the time first generation students don’t even know what they don’t know. They aren’t even sure what to ask,” she said. “This makes it really hard for them to find stuff out and even know what’s possible.”

Looking to the future, First Generation Nebraska hopes to improve its communication capabilities by revising its website, reaching out to students more frequently and creating a better system to connect with prospective students and their families, according to Goodburn. 

Fitzsimmons said attending events and meeting other first generation students helped with the transition to college right away.

“[First Generation Nebraska] has helped a lot,” Fitzsimmons said. “Any question I might have they can answer for me and help me out. They made my transition [to college] as easy as possible.”

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