First generation college students face challenges students who come from families that have college experiences don’t.

Recognizing these challenges and offering new avenues of support is the reason students, administrators, and Wayne State alum came together Friday, Nov. 8, to celebrate First Generation Student Day in the David Adamany Undergraduate Library's Bernath Auditorium.

The celebration was organized by the TRiO Educational Opportunity Center and the WSU EOC Dream Team. TriO EOC is a community-based program who provide free academic, vocational, career and financial aid information to students wishing to pursue programs in postsecondary education.

“First gen students are resilient and good problem solvers, but like everyone else they have a problem asking for help,” Professor of education and WSU EOC dream team advisor, James Hearn said. “I know you struggle. I know what it took to get here. 24% of newly enrolled students are first generation college students, off those, 23% percent of them come from low-income families.”

The event hosted a nine member panel of current, postgraduate, and prospective WSU students who shared their triumphs and struggles as the first members in their families pursuing college educations.

“A major component is cost,” Sarah Elhasen, a senior studying public health and sociology, said during the panel. “FAFSA isn’t exactly simple, and it doesn’t cover everything. Finding people to help me navigate that process has helped me more than anything else”

Derryl Glenn Jr., a sophomore studying finance at the WSU Mike Ilitch School of Business, echoed Elhasan’s sentiments.

“It’s all these little things that if your parents went through them, they can help you navigate it yourself,” Glenn Jr. said. “Since we don’t have that it is up to us to build that community of support ourselves.”

Financial insecurity and the lack of family support structures contribute to some of the challenges first generation students face, the panel said.

Hearn said 11% of first generation students earn a degree in six years.

A 2012 National Center for Biotechnology Information study showed 69% of first generation college students say they go to school to help their families compared to 39% of students whose parents have a degree.

Keith Whitfield, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at WSU, told the audience that WSU was dedicated to helping first generation students fulfill their academic goals.

“I'm so glad that you're celebrating being the first ones in your family, the first ones in your neighborhood, the first ones wherever, to be able to go to school here,” said Dr. Keith Whitfield, Provost & Sr.. Vice President of Academic Affairs at WSU. “Follow that passion, work hard, stay committed and ask for help. This university is better ready to help you than ever before. The only difference is if you as you will make a difference in yourself, you will make a difference in your families.”

 Sean Taormina is the features editor for The South End. He can be reached at Cover photo by Sean.

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