UAFS Chancellor, Dr. Terisa Riley raises her hand while asking a crowd of students, faculty and staff who among them was also a first-generation college student. The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith celebrated National First-Generation Student Day Friday, Nov. 8, alongside fellow campuses across the country. 


A sea of first-generation students filled the Boreham Library to celebrate their success and hear remarks from UAFS Dean of Students Dr. Dave Stevens, UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley and Director of UAFS Student Support Services Lacey Ruminer, all of whom were first-generation college students themselves.


After hearing a moving speech from Chancellor Riley on the perseverance it takes to be a first-generation student and how the help of dedicated university staff truly made her experience possible, students were invited to tell their own stories through video diaries filmed by the UAFS NUMediA student broadcasting organization. Thank you note stations for students to share their gratitude with their supporters, snacks and cupcakes, a selfie booth and a #First2Go gift table celebrated students who are the first in their families to go to college.


More than 50 percent of UAFS students report being first-generation students, meaning neither of their parents earned a four-year degree. Research shows that these students look to mentors, university staff and friends to provide guidance and insight into the systems and procedures of higher education. Samantha Contreras, an administrative specialist at UAFS, and her mentee, Mallory Gates, filmed video testimonials honoring their experiences as first-generation students.


“There are so many good things about being a first-generation student,” said Gates, a senior media communication major. “I’m proud to be a first-gen student because I am more than my struggles, and there are many great things ahead.”


About having a mentor who was also a first-generation student, the Hackett native said, “It feels like there’s another resource I can access. It feels like I have a friend and someone to talk to, but also someone who is going to give me really good professional advice. She has a great mindset of what I’m going through because she just went through it.”


For her part, Contreras added, “I felt like I know a lot of the struggles that I and my sisters had to go through, so being able to help students understand and get ahead was really important. They need someone they’re comfortable with to help them reach their goals, and I’m so glad I get to do that.”


The pair shared a hug and a few tears as they told their stories, which will be featured in a NUMediA production later this month.


The First-Generation Celebration was hosted by Student Support Services (SSS), who also hosted an open house. SSS is a TRiO program that is fully federally funded through the U.S. Department of Education. The program provides opportunities for academic development, assists students with basic college requirements and motivates students toward the successful completion of their postsecondary education. The goal of SSS is to increase college retention and graduation rates of participants.


SSS provides academic tutoring, advice and assistance in course selection, information on financial aid availability (including grants, loans, and scholarships) and assistance in completing financial aid applications.

Rachel Rodemann Putman
Date Posted: 
Friday, November 8, 2019
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