Trying to navigate without a map can be what it feels like for a first-generation student who decides to pursue higher education. In support of those students who are the first in their families to attend college, Oregon Institute of Technology, “Oregon Tech,” participated in a nationwide event, First-Generation College Celebration, on Nov. 8.
The event was sponsored by the Tech Opportunities Program (TRiO) and Campus Life. First-generation college students are those whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree, so they are first in their families to attend a four-year college/university. Being first-generation is a very proud accomplishment for students and their families.
Brianna Schwenk, TOP Student Support Services academic specialist, organized the event and is excited to celebrate the first-generation students and connect them with resources that help them succeed. An estimated 35 percent of Oregon Tech students at the Klamath Falls campus are first-generation students.
“In my role, I work side by side with students to encourage and support them through their time at Oregon Tech,” Schwenk said. “As first-generation alumni, I know how it feels to navigate blindly through an academic journey. It means the world to me knowing that our students of this population are served intentionally with high-quality programs, and understood across campus.”
Oregon Tech’s TOP program powers the potential of first-generation, low-income, and students with disabilities who demonstrate academic need. The dedicated staff provides services and support in the following areas:
- Study skills, decision making, and academic coaching
- Academic, career and financial planning as well as supplemental tutoring
- Peer mentoring and networking with other students, staff, and faculty
- College success classes, faculty-led sessions, and workshops
- Assistance with applying for financial aid, scholarships and grants
- Community building, cultural events and a sense of belonging.
TOP is a federally funded Student Support Services-TRIO program that has supported Oregon Tech students since 2001. With a staff of three full-time employees and one part-time staff member, the program annually serves 160 students.
A first-generation student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology from Oregon Tech, Jessica Flescher shared her experiences during the event and noted that it is often a culture shock for first-generation students when they arrive on campus.
“This educational journey has been the toughest thing I have ever taken on, but I have been blessed with the people who kept me going,” she said. “If it was not for them I would not have worked this hard to stay in school. The biggest challenge as a nontraditional student was navigating classes, campus and college life in a sea of young faces.”
A first-generation student himself, Oregon Tech professor Richard Carson provided the keynote address at the event.
“The path that first-generation students take can be an unknown route for their families and friends,” Carson said. “It is important that we as the Oregon Tech family serve as their support system and guide them along the way. TOP is an excellent program and the impact it has on students leads to success. I wish this program would have been available when I was a student.” He added many faculty and staff at Oregon Tech are first-generation graduates, some of whom were able to attend the event and share their personal stories of success. Carson is a registered technologist who has taught at Oregon Tech for 13 years within the Radiologic Science department. He is also an alumnus of Oregon Tech.
In 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education, in partnership with the Center for First-generation Student Success, celebrated the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration Nov. 8 with an event on Capitol Hill. The 2019 celebration brings together college and university campuses around the nation in recognition of their first-generation students, staff, and faculty.
To learn more about the First-Generation College Celebration, visit https://firstgen.naspa.org/engagement/2019-first-generation-college-celebration.