Student and Academic Life

First-Generation Students Honored During This Year's First-Generation College Celebration

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First-Generation Student Organization.
First-Generation Student Organization president, Brittney Sawyer.
First-Generation Student Organization.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 4, 2019) — Being a pioneer of change has never been an easy task. Being a first-generation student is no exception.

Academic trailblazer, Brittney Sawyer, can attest to that. 

"The odds are stacked up against first-gen students and I have found great motivation in this adversity," the Minnesota native proudly stated. 

Her journey to the University of Kentucky was not an easy one. One of five children, Sawyer's parents always believed that she would achieve greatness, but did not always have the means to help her do so.

"My parents had no pre-existing funds to allow me to pursue a degree when I graduated high school," Sawyer said. "I rely on loans, scholarship money and the rest is scraped up from my parents and money I earn."

As a first-generation student, Sawyer is not alone when it comes to financial hardship. According to a recent study, 54% of first-generation students were financially on their own, while only 27% of non-first-generation students had full financial responsibility for themselves. 

While first-generation students are just as intelligent and motivated as their non-first-generation peers, they tend to lack some of the resources and knowledge necessary to navigate the complex college system.

"Just trying to figure out the culture of college in and of itself was a hard task, especially with minimal guidance from loved ones," Sawyer explained. "I have had to search and put myself out there more than the average student in order to be involved and create my sense of belonging."

Now in her third year at the university and on a pre-med track, through her dogged determination and with the unwavering support from her family and the community she has formed at the university, each day of her journey as a Wildcat has become easier. 

"Most students who are first-gen come from similar backgrounds, so I usually find it easy to become friends with first-gen students and have found a sense of support on campus because of this," she said. "We have community in our first-gen groups and even in other support groups on campus for marginalized students who struggle with belonging."

It was groups like the First-Generation Student Organization (FGSO), an organization that was designed to support, educate and promote the needs of students who are the first in their families to go to college, which Sawyer is now the president of,  and resources like First-Generation Student Advising that helped Sawyer find a sense of belonging on campus. 

At UK, around one in four incoming freshmen are first-generation college students. The university works to support these students during their transition into college and during their time at the university through resources targeted specifically to their unique needs. 

To celebrate the thousands of students at UK like Sawyer, the university is participating in the nationwide, First-Generation College Celebration.

Created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-Generation Student Success, the First-Generation College Celebration recognizes the success of first-generation college students, faculty and staff.

College and university campuses across the country hold rallies, panel discussions, listening sessions and more to reinforce a national commitment to foster first-gen student success.

Martina Martin, associate director of student transitions and family programs, believes that celebrating the accomplishments of first-generation students across the country not only sheds light upon their vast abilities but also fosters an environment of inclusivity.

"First-Gen Week is a great opportunity to recognize, support and celebrate our UK students, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend and to graduate from college. We value our first-generation students and we are proud to celebrate their successes."

UK's First-Generation Celebration Week schedule of events includes: 

Monday, Nov. 4

  • FIRSTravaganza Photo Booth, Gatton Student Center 
  • FGSO Meeting, 5 p.m., Room 200 McVey Hall (first-gen students)

Tuesday, Nov. 5

  • FIRSTravaganza Photo Booth, The 90 
  • First-Generation College Students and the Imposter Phenomenon Webinar, 3-4:30 p.m., William T. Young Library Auditorium
  • FGSO UK Basketball Watch Party 

Wednesday, Nov. 6

  • FIRSTravaganza Photo Booth, Room 443 Multidisciplinary Sciences Building

Thursday. Nov. 7

  • FIRSTravaganza Photo Booth, Rom 230 McVey Hall 
  • First-Gen Conversations: First-Generation Intersectionality - a discussion on “first-generation-plus” identities at UK

Friday, Nov. 8

  • FIRSTravaganza Photo Booth, Gatton Student Center
  • First-Gen Fill-Up, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Room 230 McVey Hall 
  • Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society Chartering and Induction Ceremony, 6 p.m., Lexmark Room at Main Building

First-Generation Celebration Week is hosted by Student Transitions and First Year Programs. To learn more about first-generation students and the resources offered to support first-gen students, click here

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.