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First-generation students focus of “First To Geaux” initiative

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will host a social media campaign, virtual panel discussion and Twitter chat for its students whose parents either didn’t pursue or didn’t complete a college degree program.

The efforts are part of UL Lafayette’s weeklong “First To Geaux” initiative. It will begin with a social media campaign on Sunday, Nov. 8, which is National First-Generation Celebration Day. Colleges and universities are encouraged to recognize first-generation students, and promote awareness campaigns and initiatives to help them succeed.

The University’s Office for Campus Diversity will lead a “First To Geaux” virtual panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

First-generation students will share their experiences. Faculty and staff members – including some who were first-generation students – will share theirs, too. Participants will also trade information about campus resources, departments and programs.

First-generation students can also take part in a #FirstToGeaux Twitter chat at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Dr. Taniecea A. Mallery, the University’s executive director of Strategic Initiatives and chief diversity officer, said the forums are different, but the intent is the same.

“We want to explore what it means to be a first-generation student, and give our first-generation students opportunities to talk about some of the challenges they face,” she explained.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, first-generation students are more likely to be from lower-income backgrounds, older than their fellow students, have families and hold full-time jobs.

They are also more likely to be less familiar with processes and procedures on college campuses, “things like how to access financial aid or stipends and navigate registration,” Mallery said.

“New students often don’t know where to go, what questions to ask, or even who to ask them of. The problem is compounded for first-generation students, including graduate students. They haven’t grown up hearing about the college experience and may not be able to turn to their parents for advice.”

The “First To Geaux” is also designed to encourage networking among first-generation students.

“Sometimes students forget – or are embarrassed – to seek direction from each other. It’s our responsibility to let them know they aren’t alone. About 25 percent of our students identify as first-generation. That’s a significant pool of knowledge,” Mallery said.

First-generation student Keilen Tauriac, a junior industrial technology major from New Iberia, La., understands the benefits of “finding a mentor as quickly as possible.” As a freshman, he was befriended by a senior majoring in industrial technology who constantly offered advice, including after he graduated.

“I would recommend that all new students find someone in their field of study to show them the ropes. It makes a big difference if you have someone who’s been in your shoes to rely on,” Tauriac explained.

Learn more about “First to Geaux” and how to participate. Learn more about National First-Generation Celebration Day.

Graphic credit: Mariah Scallan / University of Louisiana at Lafayette