Talisha Adams, assistant director of the Student Success Center at UT, Knoxville, speaks about National First-Generation College Student Day.
Monica Kast, inactive
The smell of spray paint and pizza filled the air on Thursday afternoon as first-generation college students gathered around the Rock at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Thursday was National First-Generation College Student Day, and UT planned a day of events to celebrate and recognize first-generation students.
Staff from the Student Success Center set up a tent near the Rock and handed out free pizza and T-shirts to first-generation students. Throughout the afternoon, the students, as well as faculty and staff members who were first-generation students, signed their name on the Rock.
Approximately 23 percent of undergraduate students at UT Knoxville are first-generation students, according to Karen Sullivan-Vance, the associate vice provost for student success. Sullivan-Vance, who was a first-generation student herself, said Thursday was about celebrating students who are the first in their families to attend college.
“Today is a great celebration,” Sullivan-Vance said.
Sullivan-Vance said she was recently talking with a student who said they felt shame about being a first-generation student. Sullivan-Vance said she hoped those feelings would not last.
“There’s a feeling that people know things you don’t know, and you’re wondering how do you get that knowledge,” Sullivan-Vance said. “I don’t want students to be ashamed.”
Shelby Ledbetter, a freshman first-generation student, said it felt good to have a day where first-generation students were recognized.
“It feels really good because where my family didn’t go to college, I worked really hard to prove to myself I could do this,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter said she would encourage other first-generation college students by reminding them that earning a college degree is possible.
“It’s possible,” Ledbetter said. “It’s possible to be your own role model.”
Brakala Sims, a freshman first-generation student, said it “feels great” to see other first-generation students being recognized by UT.
“It’s dedicated to you,” Sims said. “Just to know your family is not the only ones proud of you, but the community is too, it motivates me.”
Talisha Adams, assistant director of the Student Success Center, said another part of the day was identifying faculty and staff who were first-generation students and who can offer support to current students.
“You’re not alone,” Adams said. “You have allies on this campus.”
The Student Success Center offers a variety of programs and support for first-generation college students, including the UT LEAD program. This program focuses on leadership, excellence, achievement and diversity, and assists students through their first year at UT.
The two-semester program includes access to an academic coach, as well as seminars and workshops throughout the year.
Sullivan-Vance said first-generation students also have access to student success coaches.These coaches will meet with any student, not just first-generation students, and help them work on skills like time management and study skills.
Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis also attended the Paint the Rock and Pizza event. Davis, a first-generation college student himself, said he learned the secret to success as a first-generation student is “getting students engaged early on and helping them financially.”
“We are a campus that’s a phenomenal place to get engaged and to start their educational process,” Davis said.
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