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Western's 1st Generation Society - front row, l-r, Jocelyn Gomez, Jenny Diaz, Brenda Betancourt; back row, Jacqueline Mendoza, Tais Martinez, Adviser Kelly Morris, Jessica Muniz.
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Celebrating First Generation Students

November 8, 2019

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30 percent of college students are first-generation students. To celebrate first-generation students, Nov. 8 has been designated as National First Generation College Celebration Day. This day was selected to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965.

Much like other hallmark legislation of that era, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, HEA was intended to help level the playing field that had long been weighed against Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their educations, the legislation made key investments in higher education institutions. HEA also ushered in programs, like the Federal TRIO program, which assist with the preparation, procedures and direction in pursuing postsecondary access, retention and completion for low-income and/or first-generation college graduates.

At Western Illinois University, 34 percent of the student body is classified as first generation. Ben Mabiah, a junior health services management major from Cedar Rapids, IA, said as a first-generation student, he selected Western because of its affordability.

"Besides the affordability, Western has provided me with a safe community, a quality education, and the opportunity to elevate the knowledge I need to be successful in my field," he added.

According to Associate Provost Mark Mossman, the Western First Year Experience (FYE) program provides support for first-generation students through their first year of college and beyond.

"We work with faculty and staff devoted to first year students to identify the unique experiences, address the specific needs and highlight the strengths of first-generation students," he added. "Supporting the success of first-generation students is something we do very well at Western."

In addition to the FYE program, WIU has in place numerous other programs and resources, including the student organization, Western's 1st Generation Society (W1GS). According to Academic Adviser and W1GS Adviser Kelly Morris, the organization is designed to give first-generation students a club where they feel more connected with the University.

"It's a support group and safe space to ask questions and share experiences. W1GS really fosters growth and leadership," she explained.

The society works to educate its members about the resources available, get them involved in campus activities and become active volunteers.

"As a first-generation college student, Western has provided me with the support and the tools necessary for life after college," said Maranda Wills, a senior health services management major from Chicago.

This semester, the newly-designed offices of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Retention Initiatives (SRRRI) and the Student Development and Success Center (SDSC) have implemented a number of new student success programs, including the Leatherneck Care Referral program, which gives students, families, faculty and staff, an opportunity to refer students and situations to the Student Services Division for personal follow-up. This program helps to ensure students are not falling through the cracks and have access to resources and support at WIU. The offices have also started to provide additional resources and education for our first-generation college students and families.

"It is vital we develop and implement effective communication and support for families and students so they know to expect during their time at WIU. We're looking at jargon and terms and how we describe things on campus. Often we can have a lot of difficult processes, and by thinking about things through the scope of a first-generation college student or family member, we can easily rewrite directions, processes and other information to be more user-friendly for everyone," Schuch explained.

The SRRRI also coordinates the Building Connections Mentor program, in which volunteer faculty and staff serve as mentors to assist in the transition to campus throughout the first semester, while the Connections Mapping program provides insight and early intervention opportunities.

"As a first-generation student, I'm grateful for the opportunities that Western has provided," Kathy Hougland, a senior theatre major from Rock Island, added. "I've expanded my knowledge of theatre and other areas, and I've been exposed to different cultures that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't left home."

WIU-Quad Cities senior accountancy major Raven Overton-Price, from Hampton, said the opportunities provided to her at WIU has allowed her to not only pursue her career goals, but also become a well-rounded citizen.

"As a first-generation student, Western has provided me with knowledge and confidence, as well as an academic family," she added.

Students interested in joining W1GS can visit the Purple Post, or contact Morris directly at

Posted By: WIU News (
Office of University Relations