Sarah Geegan

First-Gen Living Learning Community is a Gateway, Family, Community and Army

Published: Oct 2, 2013




LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 2, 2013) First-generation college students face a myriad of unique obstacles; as the first people in their families to attend college, their experiences are inherently different from those of other students. As such, the UK Office of First Generation Initiatives serves to support these students by addressing needs, skill sets and support mechanisms specific to first-gen students.


"The major finding in my research that guides our office is that first-generation students lack the 'college student role' — the knowledge of how to make it in the system," Matthew Deffendall, director of First Generation Initiatives, said. "Even if you remove all other factors — socioeconomic, gender and ethnicity — just the fact that a student is a first generation puts that student at risk. We develop programming to address this risk."


Part of UK's Living Learning Program (LLP), the First Generation Living Learning Community (1G LLC), currently located in Blanding III and moving to Baldwin Hall next fall, is a central component to that programming. A residential experience designed to support first generation students and assist them with their transition from high school to college, the program promotes student success through connected courses with peers, increased faculty and staff interaction and intentional programming efforts.


Coordinated by full-time program advisor Kelsey Carew, the community of approximately 75 students provides a support system specifically designed for the different hurdles that first-generation students face, and LLC residents Cody Russell, Nate Yates, Lucas Isaacs and Lan Yang each used a different word to describe their experience.


For Cody Russell, a 2013 resident, 1G LLC is an army.


"The 1G LLC has literally meant the difference between being alone and afraid as a first generation college student, to knowing you have all the weapons and army behind you to accomplish your goals," Russell said. "Academically, the 1G LLC has opened countless doors for me as I pursue a career path toward medicine. Not only have I been connected to amazing academic mentors, but also countless programs designed to help me succeed."


For Nate Yates, a First Scholar, 2012 resident and 2013 peer mentor, the LLC is a family.


"Living in the first generation living learning community has meant a lot to me because it is nice to know that there are people going through the same thing that I am," Yates said. "That is, they are trying to be the first in their family to go to college. Knowing that I have people to talk to who are going through similar experiences makes the community feel like a family. That's what everyone in B3 is to me: family."


Lan Yang is a Robinson Scholar, 2012 peer mentor and 2011 resident. She said that the First Generation LLC really constituted a gateway for her success.


"It made me more comfortable with the new surroundings and created a sense of community that allowed me to transition from a 5,000 population town to a university six-times that size," Yang said. "The 1G LLC also was a gateway to getting involved. In order to feel confident in joining organizations and branching out, one must feel accepted and heard. The 1G LLC was that; it gave me all the support I needed."


Yang used this gateway to pursue opportunities with the First Generation Student Organization (FGSO).


"I enjoyed my experience so much as a first generation student that I want to ensure others have the same pleasant experience. With that, I decided to join the FGSO council and am now the director of communication and collaboration," Yang said.


Lucas Isaacs, a Robinson Scholar, 2012 resident and 2013 peer mentor, said that for him the LLC is at its core, a community.


"At first this was frightening, when I was a freshman; however, as I became aware of how tight-knit the 1G community is, I instantly became more comfortable, and the community welcomed me with open arms," Isaacs said. "In our community, we have tutoring throughout the week, which is obviously very beneficial. Not only that, but the RAs as well as the hall director know where to send you if you need help. I honestly feel like I have known some of these people my entire life."


The First Generation Living Learning Program represents a unique partnership between the UK Office of First Generation Initiatives, UK Student Affairs and the UK Office for Institutional Diversity. Both in-state and out-of-state students reside in the community.


“From connected classes to social/cultural events, the 1G LLC provides a unique opportunity to connect with students going through similar experiences whether they are from Paducah to Pikeville," Deffendall said. "We have also seen this community as a great environment for out-of-state students who instantly have a small family on this campus.”


Celebrating its 25th year on campus in fall 2014, the Living Learning Program at the University of Kentucky provides students with an environment to learn where they live and to live where they learn. The Division of Student Affairs Office of Residence Life, creators of the program, collaborated with academic and other student success partners to complement the classroom experience. Through Living Learning Communities and Residential Colleges, UK offers students an opportunity to live and learn together in an integrated academic residential environment.


This dynamic residential experience offers specialized programming, interactions with UK faculty and staff, and a supportive community that focuses on student success. The program has grown exponentially in recent years with 965 students participating in 13 programs this fall. Six more programs will be added in fall 2014, nine times more than in 2008. For more information, visit




MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan. (859) 257-5365;

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