The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

National First-Generation College Student Day

UWEC recognizes first-generation students with incentives and events
Photo by Isabella Matczak
Students involved in National First-Generation Student Day set up a table in Davies Center to hand out t-shirts and stickers.

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, UW-Eau Claire celebrated National First-Generation College Student Day, along with other universities across the country. A student is considered “first-generation” if neither of their parents received a four-year degree.

Nov. 8 marked the 57th anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This act helped to fund students’ education by establishing federal financial aid programs and investing in universities and colleges.

Jodi Thesing-Ritter is the director of the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education as well as the organizer of the day’s events. More than 20 different departments and offices from the Eau Claire and Barron campuses took part in the planning, according to Ritter.

“We have been celebrating as a campus for the last three years. It began in 2017 at the national level, and we are so happy to join with colleges and universities across the country to celebrate our first-generation students and colleagues,” Ritter said.

Story continues below advertisement

Programs such as Fostering Success and Student Support Services played a large part in the event. According to Ritter, they provide support for first-generation students year-round and train faculty in all departments to help these students improve retention, along with other offices.

From Nov. 6-8, students set up a table in Davies Student Center to hand out t-shirts and stickers to first-generation students, who currently only make up about 24% of the UW-Eau Claire population, according to Ritter. 

“This can make it an isolating experience to be a student here,” Ritter said. “It is important to celebrate this day so that students can connect with faculty and staff who have been through it and meet students who are going through some of the same challenges.” 

Hannah Smith is a second-year social work student who helped at the table. 

“The event held last year wasn’t as projected and not a lot of awareness was brought to it. This year we ordered about 500 more shirts and added more incentives,” Smith said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, there was a faculty, staff, student and alumni breakfast held to kick off the celebration. Attendees were able to speak on their journey through higher education and their experiences as a first-generation college student.

According to Ritter, faculty and staff wore their t-shirts on the day of the celebration and took time in class to recognize the first-generation students present.

Rebecca Hendrickson is a second-year unified special education student who helped with the event.

“Being a first-generation student can be a struggle that people don’t really talk about,” Hendrickson said. “To people who feel like they can’t do it because their families didn’t, acknowledging this day is really validating.” 

Activities of the day were planned for students as well as faculty and staff, who were able to watch a film about first-generation students and participate in a class that talked about ways to better support them, Ritter said.

A virtual student panel called “I Am First” was live-streamed from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8, to all regional campuses. It included students from UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College who presented to faculty and staff.

The EDI also provided a workshop titled “Classism in Higher Education” from 1:30-3 p.m. that day for students, faculty and staff to participate in.

This session explained how low-income and first-generation students can be impacted by classism during their college careers. Participants discussed ideas for accomplishing systemic change and learned of ways to best assist individual students.

“As a first-generation college graduate myself, I appreciate the opportunity to mentor first-generation students at UW-Eau Claire. I have always gone out of my way to connect with students so they know they’re not alone and have so much support on the journey,” Ritter said. 

Matczak can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *