First-generation students arrive at UCCS from all kinds of backgrounds. Many self-identify as racially and ethnically minoritized identities or limited income. But what they all have in common is that they are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Over 20% of UCCS undergrads identify as first-generation, a number that continues to grow. Without the historical support of parents or guardians who themselves attained at least a bachelor’s degree, navigating higher education comes with unique challenges and barriers. These challenges require dedicated resources and cultural shifts to ensure the success of every first-generation student.
With this goal in mind, UCCS has been selected to become part of the First Scholars Network, a nationally recognized program to support first-generation students.
Powered by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation, the First Scholars Network provides resources and training to institutions of higher education to dismantle systemic barriers that limit students’ ability to succeed and thrive. By offering a national model for stewarding holistic first-generation student success, the First Scholars Network will empower the campus to radically improve the first-generation experience by advancing academic achievement and constructing more inclusive structures.
“We are excited to be part of the First Scholars Network,” said Carlos Garcia, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “A good number of our UCCS students are first-generation students and we have programs in place to help these students succeed. When we help one first-generation student succeed and graduate, we have not only impacted that student’s life, but also the lives of future generations of students.”
Garcia is one of the senior-level leaders on the First Scholars Network Leadership Team, along with Rame Hanna, vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Dr. Kimberly Guyer, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs; and Dr. Jessi Smith, associate vice chancellor for research. These leaders collaborate closely with a broader network of individuals throughout the University.
The First Scholars Network will provide continuous support to UCCS through tools and resources, including: access to cohort-based learning across a growing network of committed institutions; diagnostic tools and ongoing data analytics that assess and strengthen approaches for advancing first-generation outcomes; tailored content, tools and resources through monthly workshops that build institutional infrastructure for sustaining commitment; and data-driven improvement that drives sustainable results.
“Now we have a team of colleagues from across the country who are on this journey with us — that we can learn from and incorporate our learnings into our first-generation support,” said Ellen Burkart, director of the Office of Student and Family Connections.
The program is divided into four phases to encourage continued progress and development. Being in the first phase, UCCS will participate in monthly workshops and networking and professional development opportunities, share knowledge and resources, and contributing to a peer community to build a foundational understanding of first-generation student success. UCCS will have the opportunity to progress through the phases with the goal of becoming a First Scholars Champion Campus. As a Champion Campus, UCCS will serve as a national leader in advocating first-generation efforts and will contribute to the shared knowledge of evidence-based practices, leadership engagement and scaling support.
Partnering with the First Scholars Network program is part of a larger initiative to support first-generation students at UCCS. In 2016, the Office of Student and Family Connections started the First2Go program, an initiative to connect first-generation students with peer coaches and campus departments. After extensive research on best practices for supporting first-generation students and support from the MOSAIC and LGBTQ+ Resource Center and the division for DEI, First2Go is being rebuilt around three pillars:
- First2Go Connections, a platform to connect, support and empower first-generation students.
- First2Go Faculty and Staff Network, a system to recognize and build community among our faculty and staff who were the first in their families to earn a four-year degree.
- First2Go Families, a platform to support and advocate for the families of first-generation students.
Accessibility to first-generation students has always been a priority for UCCS. But acceptance to the university is just the beginning of the journey. Through initiatives like the First Scholars Network and First2Go, spearheaded by the Office of student and Family Connections, UCCS seeks to champion first-generation students all the way to the finish line and beyond.
Find out more about the First Scholars Network here.
Find out more about First2Go and other initiatives here.