Student News

UK celebrates National First-Generation Week

Watch how these first-generation college students at UK have found support through scholarships and mentorships.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 6, 2023) — Around 25% of all students who attend the University of Kentucky are first-generation students. This means that their parent(s) or guardians did not complete a four-year college or university degree.

At the university, not only do we welcome these trailblazers with open arms, but we also provide them with the resources needed for them to thrive. In doing so, UK proudly celebrates National First-Generation Week, hosted by the Office for Student Success

Created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success, National First-Gen Week brings hundreds of higher education institutions, corporations, nonprofits and K-12 schools together to raise awareness of the first-generation college student identity and to recognize the achievements of the first-generation community.

First-generation students offer valuable and unique perspectives that are necessary to engage in richer intellectual discourse at the university,” said Robert Hayes, executive director of Student Community Resources and Services. “First-generation students are integral to the education process for all students, and we wish to honor and bring recognition to this through First-Gen Week. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the support networks that have been provided by the communities that helped our students transition to college, as well as persisting to a degree.”

Beginning Monday, Nov. 6, UK will host several events, that are open to the entire campus community, to highlight and acknowledge the varied skillsets and strengths that first-generation students bring to campuses across the nation. 

First-Gen Week will begin with the First-Gen Week Kick-Off party on Monday, followed by a lunch and learn, a story session and trivia night on Tuesday. Wednesday events will include the First-Gen Open House with First-Generation Student Services, a celebrate your firsts event and an induction ceremony with the Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society. The festivities will conclude on Thursday with First-Gen Celebration Bingo. 

“First-generation students bring so much wealth of perspective and experience to this institution, enhancing our Wildcat community,” said Molly Reynolds, acting associate vice president for student excellence. “Providing first-generation students with opportunities to create shared meaning through celebrations like First-Gen Week is so important to help first-generation students successfully transition to the university and to feel connected."

Not only will these events highlight the integral role first-gen students play on campus, the events will also connect hundreds of first-gen students with resources they may not be aware of. Resources that are made specifically with their needs in mind. 

First-generation college students often navigate the college experience in a unique and challenging way compared to their non-first-gen peers. These students sometimes lack the familial guidance and support that comes from parents who have firsthand experience with higher education. They may grapple with financial burdens, unfamiliar academic expectations and feelings of isolation. In contrast, non-first-gen students often benefit from a legacy of educational attainment in their families. This stark difference highlights the significance of tailored resources designed specifically for first-generation students. 

“While there can be many shared challenges among first-generation and continuing-generation students, first-generation students tend to have different access to social capital that would have made their transition to college one with fewer obstacles,” Hayes said. “For example, expectations of utilizing instructor office hours, tutoring resources, or how best to engage with faculty, advisors and other key stakeholders can be less familiar to first-generation students. However, as with the student population at large, once these processes become familiar, the path to a degree becomes increasingly more likely.”

First-Generation Student Services provides first-generation students with the First-Generation Scholar Living Learning Community, the First-Generation Faculty and Staff Advocate Program, the Tri-Alpha Honor Society and scholarships. 

“In First-Generation Student Services, we are positioned as advocates for the students we serve, as well as our program advisors serving as a conduit to the myriad of resources on campus,” said Hayes. “Our efforts are focused on ensuring the student appreciates the critical roles they fill at this institution as well as helping the student to envision the many possibilities that await after they have earned their degree.”

The tapestry of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds that a diverse student body brings to the table fuels a vibrant and intellectually stimulating community where ideas are explored, and discoveries are made. In such an inclusive setting, students are exposed to a multitude of ideas and viewpoints, challenging their preconceived notions, and expanding their horizons, preparing students for a life of meaning and purpose. 

Not only does First-Generation Week celebrate this belief, it also reinforces the university’s commitment to it.

To learn more about how the university supports first-generation students year-round, visit the First-Generation Student Services website here. For more information on the events taking place, visit BBNvolved. To follow along as the university celebrates National First-Generation Week, use the hashtag #UKYFirstGen. 

Photo from last's years National First-Generation Week kick-off event. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.