North Texas Daily

UNT hosts first-generation student event to commemorate education act

UNT hosts first-generation student event to commemorate education act

UNT hosts first-generation student event to commemorate education act
November 13
15:29 2017

UNT hosted a first-generation student event Wednesday in the University Union to celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Committees of Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) wanted to come together and celebrate the Higher Education Act (HEA) by supporting and acknowledging stories of first-generation students who attend UNT, event coordinator Sara Watkins said.

“We really wanted to feature the voices of our first-generation students,” Watkins said.

Watkins said the event exceeded their expectations as it was the first time UNT hosted the first-generation event on campus. Twelve first-generation students willingly participated and shared their stories and college experiences. About 40 to 50 people attended the event.

The event was divided into segments of students speaking at the podium about their life and motivation to achieve higher education.

First-generation students at UNT make up 42 percent of the student population. However, the success rate for graduating is not positive for some students. According to a research article by Morgan Terrassa Carlton, a student mentor and researcher at Wake Forest University, first-generation students face several struggles in college, including poor graduation rates, lack of family support, struggling GPAs and typically have a propensity to never fully integrate into the campus community. For many of these students, financial instability is also a factor of not being able to finish school.

Jessie Gawen, one of UNT’s first-generation students and speakers at the event, faced financial difficulties when she wanted to enroll in college. She said the only way she could go to college was if it was covered by scholarships or financial aid. At the time, the only scholarship that was available to her was for a theater major at another school, which she accepted.

“To me, it was not about what I wanted to do or study, but it was more about what the money situation looked like,” Gawen said in her speech at the event.

When she transferred to UNT Gawen said she relied on her advisers for guidance. She has no help from her parents. She added the first-generation event made her realize she is not alone because there are many students like her, and she is happy that UNT is bringing awareness to this.

UNT Honors Research professor Thomas Miles also participated in the event and shared his experience as the first-generation student in his family. Miles shared his struggled in high school. He grew up in a broken home and ended up dropping out. His background impacted his academics but he fought through his family situation and achieved higher education.

“My sort of question to myself is “how honest do I want to be about my experience” because it’s a risk,” Miles said. “But I believe my students really benefit from my story.”

One of the struggles these students have in common is dealing with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A student said it was difficult for her to get her parents to give her their tax return information. Being the first in the family to ever enroll, she didn’t have any assistance in filling out any paperwork needed.

Towards the end of their speeches, they gave bits of advice, such as advising students to always show up for class and say yes to every opportunity you come across.

Watkins said UNT was thrilled to showcase this event and intends to improve the success rate for first-generation students. Considering the help and responses, UNT anticipates organizing more programs in the future to help these students.

“This is the first step in having that continual awareness, and talking about it,” Watkins said.

Featured Image: Courtesy | Department of Student Affairs

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Banin Fatima

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