Purdue community invited to Nov. 7 reception celebrating first-generation college students

Last updated: Oct. 21, 2022

Pictured: Save the Date invitation. All are invited to join the first-generation student celebration from 4:30 to 6 p.m on Nov. 7 in the PMU North Ballroom.

Daisha Lasley was a sophomore at Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis when she first heard the term “first-generation student.”

Purdue defines first-generation college students as undergraduates whose parents or guardians did not complete a four-year college degree. For Lasley, who was already planning to study cybersecurity at Purdue, acknowledging the first-gen piece of her identity felt like an opportunity.  

 “When they explained to me what it was, I felt happy,” Lasley said. “It meant that there was a recognition that not all students have the same experiences or needs in their pursuit of a degree.”   

The Purdue community is invited to help celebrate the assets and strengths embodied by first-generation college students during "Proud to be First!" on Monday, Nov. 7. The reception takes place from 4:30-6 p.m. in the North Ballroom of the Purdue Memorial Union.

Proud to be First! is intended to build community among first-generation students, as well as staff, faculty, and advocates. The public is welcome to stop by for refreshments and giveaways. This event is one of many occurring across campus as part of Purdue’s First-Gen College Student Celebration Week from Nov. 7-11, 2022. For a full listing of campus events,  visit the First-Gen Celebration Week events page.

Purdue is one of 277 institutions to earn the national “First Gen Forward” designation from NASPA's Center for First Generation Student Success, which acknowledges higher education institutions’ commitment to first-generation student success. Nicole Wilson, University Innovation Alliance fellow at Purdue, shares the weeklong celebration is a part of Purdue's First Gen Forward Initiative, which aims to reignite conversations and action items focused on promoting first-generation college student success that began before the pandemic.

Pictured: Daisha Lasley stands near the Horizons space on the 3rd floor of Krach Leadership Center

“Roughly 16 percent of Boilermakers self-identify as first-generation college students, which means we have a tremendous opportunity, if we pay close attention, to tailor and shape the Purdue experience with first-generation college student success in mind,” Wilson says. “Literature suggests what works for first-gen students benefits all students, but the reverse is not necessarily true. What's challenging is that we are talking about institutional transformation, and that’s never easy work. It takes a committed group of administrators, faculty, staff, and students to transform our service and commitment to student success.”   

In the spring semester of 2022, Wilson led a landscape analysis focused on first-generation students at Purdue. One discovery from that effort was broad campus interest in adopting evidence-based practices to maximize first-gen student success. A  summary of those findings can be found on the Boiler Success Team website. 

Lasley, now a first-year student studying cybersecurity at Purdue, can name several experiences that have been instrumental to her success. While attending Purdue Polytechnic High School, she earned dual high school and college credit from Purdue Fort Wayne and IUPUI and later joined Purdue’s Summer Start program. Today, she is a member of Horizons Student Support Services, a federally funded TRIO program that provides qualifying students with services such as tutoring, mentoring, career development, academic support, and more.  

 “At first it was hard to talk to people; I was afraid to ask for help because I felt like I would look weak,” Lasley said. “With Horizons and Summer Start, they helped me feel like I could seek help without being judged. Since it’s such a big campus, it can feel overwhelming to know where to go. But having designated resources gave me a boost. It helped me feel like I belong here, and I can get through it.” 

Lasley says many of the first-generation students she knows are notably resilient. She adds that some may just need to be reminded that they are enough.    

“My advice to other first-generation students would be to have a little faith,” she says. “You have a reason to get an education and to be involved. Even if you feel like you’re set back, you’re most likely not as far back as you think you are. You’re very smart. Just keep pushing, keep day-to-day. You’re not alone.”  

Disabled attendees should contact Nicole Wilson regarding any specific accommodation needs. Our team will make every effort to provide reasonable accommodations in an effective and timely manner.

"Proud to be First" is hosted by the Boiler Success Team and co-sponsored by Purdue’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Student Life, Purdue Libraries, and Student Success Programs.

More resources:
Boiler Success Team
Purdue's First Generation Student Success website
NASPA’s Center for First Generation Student Success

Read about some of our first-gen Purdue students:

Hannah Wolfe

Senior, College of Liberal Arts

Jacob Perez

Senior, School of Mechanical Engineering

Pre-law major launches Purdue’s first club for first-generation students

Hannah Wolfe didn’t know she was considered a first-generation college student until awarded a four-year scholarship related to that piece of her identity

“When I got that scholarship, I was like, ‘Wait, I’m a first-generation student? But both of my parents have associates degrees,’” Wolfe recalled. “Later I learned that being a first-generation student means neither of your parents have a bachelor’s degree.”

When reflecting on her experience as a first-generation college student, Wolfe said she had to be self-sufficient and internally motivated to get to Purdue.

“I distinctly remember my mom and I sitting at the computer for hours trying to fill out the FAFSA and college applications,” Wolfe says. “When I meet other first-gen students at Purdue, they often tell me they’re happy to meet someone who shares that kind of experience.”

Since a third-grade career fair, Wolfe has dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

“My mom talked about being a secretary at a law office,” said Wolfe. “And from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Not many people can say they have been working toward their dream career for 16 years.”

Wolfe’s motivation led her to Purdue, where she said she’s learned the importance of seeking out resources for success. At a resource fair for student involvement opportunities, she noticed there were none geared specifically to first-gen students. This inspired her to launch Purdue’s inaugural First-Generation Student Club, which aims to foster connection opportunities for students with shared experiences and backgrounds.

“I knew I had to put myself out there,” Wolfe said. “As a first-generation student, I have used my desire to seek out things for myself, like making connections in the Pre-law Advising Office or Purdue’s Office of the Dean of Students. Generally, first-gen students are extremely social and competent and can make those connections; it’s just sometimes difficult to find the right places to use those skills.”

Wolfe says many of the first-generation college students she knows are driven by their desire for success and possess notable strengths.

Even though her club is new, Wolfe says more than 44 students have expressed an interest in being involved so far. Beyond creating community among first-generation students, she hopes the club will be an opportunity for students to learn more about resources that can help them maximize their success.

“It’s necessary to have resources specifically for first-generation students, and to continue highlighting what’s available,” Wolfe says. “You can’t get ahead without support.”

Perez pays forward support he received as first-generation student

Ever since Jacob Perez was younger, he knew we wanted to be an engineer, specifically at Purdue. Until he became a Purdue student, however, he hadn’t realized how much his journey to college had been shaped by his experience as a first-generation student.

“I didn't really know what it meant, because one of my parents had achieved some college but didn't complete their degree.”

Perez recalled arriving on campus and feeling overwhelmed.

“There was like nothing that could have ever prepared me for this,” he said. “Although, at the same time, I felt very comfortable because of support from people around me.”

One support Perez appreciates is Purdue’s federally funded Horizons Student Support Services program, which he has been part of since his freshman year. Horizons assists students in developing academic, social, and personal skills through services such as tutoring, mentoring, career development, academic support, cultural enrichment, and access to global experiences.

“I'm very grateful that I joined there my first year because, without them, I would have had a lot more trouble in my past four years.”

Now a senior studying mechanical engineering, Perez mentors other Horizons students. He says helping other students with academics or navigate personal challenges is “an opportunity to give back some of what the program gave to me.”

Perez also says he enjoys spending time with other first-gen students because they can connect over mutual experiences.

“We're all going through this together at the same time,” he says. “We can share resources and information while supporting each other along the way.”

Pictured: Save the Date invitation. All are invited to join the first-generation student celebration from 4:30 to 6 p.m on November 7th in the PMU North Ballroom.

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