Purdue joins national First-Generation College Celebration with launch of new website, first-gen engagement opportunities

Last updated: November 6, 2020

Narratives about the first-generation college experience often focus on the barriers students face. At Purdue, campus leaders are working to shift the conversation instead to how first-generation students strengthen and diversify their campus communities.

At Purdue, one in five undergraduate students are from families where their parents or guardians did not complete a four-year degree.

“I am First Gen,” says Joel Ebarb, senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education and International Programs in the College of Liberal Arts. “I entered Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1985 without knowing what a syllabus was or how to use it. I didn’t understand financial aid, internships, how to craft a schedule of classes, how to pick a major, how to study … the list goes on. There was no one at home to answer my questions. My family loved and supported me, but they could not advise me on how to be successful at college.”

Ebarb says that without the help of faculty and staff mentors, he would have been lost.

Woman stands outside of Armstrong Hall holding First-Gen sign

Purdue Engineering will be celebrating First-Generation College Celebration with speakers, events, and more.

From Nov. 8-14, Purdue will join campus communities across the nation in conversations and engagement opportunities related to the first-generation college student experience. This is the fourth year for the First-Generation College Celebration. Co-facilitated by the NASPA national organization for student affairs professionals, the initiative is designed to advance an asset-based national narrative on first-generation student experiences and outcomes. Ideally, staff and faculty at Purdue will be able to better understand and address systemic barriers plaguing higher education, as well as provide the supports necessary for first-generation students to maximize their potential.

Purdue’s participation in the first-generation student celebration comes a few months after the University was selected to join the inaugural First Scholars® Network. With this affiliation, NASPA recognizes Purdue as an institution that demonstrates a commitment to advancing the outcomes of first-generation students through improving both first-generation student success initiatives and institution-wide approaches.

Save and share this image on your social media pages to celebrate your identity as a first-generation student!

As one example, Purdue recently launched a website dedicated to the first-generation student experience. Purdue’s First-Gen website features quotes and stories from Purdue staff and alumni who identify as first-generation students, as well as helpful resources for students, staff and faculty.

Dan Carpenter, executive director of Student Success Programs, says participating in First Forward and the First Scholars Network will enable Purdue to learn more about the unique assets possessed by contemporary first-generation students. It will also help Purdue create environments designed to help students maximize their own set of strengths and experiences.

“First Gen status needs to be embraced as an identity to be respected and valued,” says Carpenter, who is a first-generation student as well. “Part of the goal is to raise awareness about the resources that are available to all students and may be of use to this population. Another goal we’re pursuing at Purdue is developing stronger partnerships across campus units and organizations that are doing great work in this area to address systemic barriers that might unfairly hinder first-generation students.”

Purdue programs such as Purdue Promise and Horizons (part of Student Success Programs) have a specific focus on Purdue’s first-generation student population. However, Dennis Bowling, senior associate director of Student Success Programs, says there is an opportunity for various campus leaders and units to come together and make a broader impact.

“About 20 percent of Purdue’s student body is first-generation, but we know that these students’ rates of retention, graduation, and career outcomes are historically lower than their non-first-generation peers,” Bowling says. “While we engage a percentage of first-generation students in Student Success Programs, we have to move forward as a cohesive campus if we want to close the overall achievement gap.”

Another Purdue staff member and first-generation student, Jess Ramsey, says she hopes conversations about the first-gen experience will help challenge stigmas and assumptions.

“A lot of people mistakenly assume that first-generation students are academically underqualified, that they don’t have support back home, and that they identify as a first-gen student,” says Ramsey, director of advising for Purdue’s Honors College and former Purdue Promise assistant director. “However, this is a group of diverse students with wide-ranging needs. Some are low-income, some aren’t. Some come from disadvantaged high schools, some don’t. Since this population is largely invisible and has wide-ranging needs, any initiatives that improve the broader student experience benefit these students.”

Incoming Purdue Freshmen listen to a lecture with fellow students

Purdue joins 31 institutions in building upon already successful programmatic elements for broad scaling while creating systemic cultural shifts that address first-generation student success with intentionality. First Scholars aligns clearly defined, measurable goals with institutional data to identify gaps, track progress, and create systems allowing leadership to make informed choices resulting in improved student outcomes, strengthened enrollment management, collaborative programming, and preservation of resources.

The First Scholars Network aligns with Purdue’s participation in the First Forward initiative, say’s CLA’s Ebarb, who co-leads Purdue’s First Forward initiative with Bowling. As a first-generation student himself, Ebarb says he has a personal connection to the unique perspectives of these students.

“First-generation students have the same potential for success as any student if they have access to the necessary information and resources,” Ebarb says. “Often, first-generation students may not know the questions to ask, much less where to look for answers. Knowledge is power, and we want to put that power in the hands of all students, including those identified as first-generation.”

To learn more about first-generation efforts at Purdue, visit the University’s recently launched First-Gen website designed for first-generation students and the staff and faculty who support them. To learn more about First Scholars and the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit firstgen.naspa.org

Upcoming First-Gen Celebration Events

Purdue College of Engineering

10-11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10

Virtual Coffee and Conversation with Acting Dean Mark Lundstrom, a first-generation grad.

Register here

6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11.

First-Generation Engineering Alumni will share Stories and Advice.

Register here

3-4 p.m. Thursday, Nov 12

Dr. Dina Verdin (PhD, ENE) will present her research findings about first-generation students and how they create advantages in engineering using their accumulated knowledge.

Register here

Visit the College of Engineering website and social media pages for updates and first-gen engineering alumni profiles!

Purdue College of Liberal Arts

4-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11.

First Generation Town Hall. Presented by Taylor Weast, Assistant Director of Academic and Career Advising, CLA , and Dennis Bowling, Senior Associate Director, Student Success Programs. Please contact Joel Ebarb to request the meeting details.

4-5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12

First Generation Alumni Spotlight. Presented by Lori Sparger, Chief Operating Office, CLA. Join CLA distinguished alumnus and First Gen student, Thomas Christopoul, in an informal discussion focused on the opportunities and obstacles that he encountered as a First-Generation student.

Follow also Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts social media platforms to help celebrate the accomplishments of CLA First Generation students, staff, and faculty.

#CelebrateFirstGen #PurdueFirstGen

Purdue College of Education

Visit the College of Education’s social media pages for updates and first-gen stories. The College of Education also held a “Teacher Education First-Generation College Student Drive-By Celebration” on Sunday, Nov. 8.


NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy, and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and 8 U.S. territories. Visit naspa.org for more information.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Through four strategic priority areas, the Center drives higher education innovation and advocacy for first-generation student success.

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, Student Success Programs, andrea@purdue.edu

Contacts: Dennis Bowling, Senior Associate Director for Student Success Programs, bowlingd@purdue.edu

Joel Ebarb, senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education and International Programs in the College of Liberal Arts, jebarb@purdue.edu

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