New Student Organization Focuses on Aiding First-Generation College Students
Nov. 8, 2020 was First-Generation Celebration Day nationwide, and what turned into first-generation celebration week for many colleges and universities across the nation.
Back in 2017, with the intention of promoting and celebrating first-generation college students as well as improving institutional approaches to first-generation student success, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-Generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration.
After the success of the first event, the two organizations have continued to promote first-generation celebration and encourage colleges and universities across the nation to join in. They have also provided scholarship opportunities to first-generation students. These celebrations and promotional events aren’t focused only on students, however; they also aim to celebrate the success of first-generation faculty and staff on campuses across the nation.
Eastern New Mexico University’s own Tyleen Caffrey, an instructor in the social work program, as well as an active faculty member in multiple organizations and clubs across campus, has been very instrumental in creating the First-Generation Student Alliance, ENMU’s first organization for first-generation students. Reydecel Coss, the director of campus life at ENMU, was also very instrumental in creating the new organization. The alliance aims to create and promote activities that celebrate and increase visibility of ENMU’s first-generation students, alumni, staff and faculty.
Together, Caffrey and Coss started the organization in the spring semester of 2020. Caffrey created a social media presence for the FGSA across multiple platforms and began planning events for the month of November with the hopes of building the organization in order to provide support, information, camaraderie and assistance, as well as recognition, for ENMU’s first-generation students. The organization, however, welcomes more than just first-generation students. Faculty, staff, alumni, non-first-generation students and anyone else interested in supporting or mentoring are welcome to join.
To kick off ENMU’s initial first-generation celebration activities, the organization planned a First-Gen Video Campaign Kickoff on Nov. 8 (the designated nationwide First-Generation Celebration Day). This first event was kicked off by the university’s President with a “Glad You’re Here” campaign where she provided words of encouragement. Any ENMU first-generation students, alumni, staff or faculty were encouraged to participate via social media by tagging the newly formed student alliance on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook in a picture or video. The hashtags #CelebrateFirstGen and #ENMUFirstGen were also created to promote the celebration on social media. Caffrey, who is the faculty advisor for the organization, was active on the social media pages and continued to post content throughout the week.
The initial kick off was followed by two more events conducted via Zoom. A First-Gen Virtual Coffee Mixer was Wednesday, Nov. 11, and focused on connecting ENMU students and colleagues with a mutual interest in supporting ENMU’s first-generation community.
To round out the celebration week, the organization hosted a Panel Discussion on Friday, Nov. 13, which welcomed first-generation students to join in and learn about various campus resources, counseling and career services, accommodations, scholarship opportunities, campus life, financial aid, and the trio student support services available to them.
Caffrey shared that while creating a new student organization always comes with its own set of challenges, there were added challenges of creating and promoting one during a virtual semester.
Despite the challenges, Caffrey was pleased with the outcomes and with the amount of student interaction and interest during ENMU’s first celebration week, and has big plans and aspirations for the future of the organization. As evidenced by her many endeavors, Caffrey has long been passionate about helping others. She holds a specific passion and intentionality for helping first-generation college students.
“As a first-generation student myself, the challenges that I remember [experiencing] going into college not having those resources, not having mentors, not having family to help navigate through the beginning stages of that, really created this passion to provide that for first-generation students,” she said.
Looking to the future, Caffrey hopes that the organization can continue to grow and provide aid to first generation students. She’s also hopeful that they can create mentorship programs in the years to come as well as outreach to incoming first-generation students.
“This is an opportunity for students who share in the same struggles and challenges to connect through this organization and help each other navigate through that together. There’s an outlet for them so they can feel that they aren’t alone,” said Caffrey. “There’s an avenue for them to feel supported.”
Anyone interested in joining or supporting the organization can contact Caffrey through her faculty email, email@example.com, or through social media; @ENMUFirstGen on Twitter,
ENMUFirstGen on Instagram, and ENMU First-Gen Student Alliance on Facebook.