Student center

Penn Staters rally for first summit in support of first-generation students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 330 Penn State advocates for first-generation students from across Pennsylvania and beyond attended the inaugural First-Generation Student Support Summit, held virtually May 4 .

The one-day conference, sponsored by the Student Success Center, provided an opportunity for first-generation student advocates — including Penn State faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators, and alumni – to recognize and strengthen this student population.

Denise Poole, who directs the Student Success Center, said, “The level of engagement we saw on May 4 was incredible, and it shows just how committed Penn Staters are to the success of first-generation students – and to our student body as a whole. We hope that the conversations sparked by the conference will continue in earnest over the coming year, and we look forward to future events focused on first-generation student success.

Penn State defines “first-generation student” as any student whose immediate parents or legal guardians did not earn a bachelor’s degree. According to data collected during the admissions process, approximately one in four currently enrolled Penn State undergraduates identify as first-generation.

The virtual conference, held on the Whova platform, was free to attendees and open to all members of the Penn State community. Attendees represented 20 Penn State residential campuses and Penn State World Campus.

The conference kicked off the morning with a brief welcome from Poole followed by keynote remarks from Noel Claudio, a first-generation Penn State college grad (Information Science and Technology, Class of 2014) and LatinX in tech advocate. who works as a strategy and operations analyst for Twitter.

“My biggest piece of advice for everyone here is to be first,” Claudio said in his speech, which he delivered from San Francisco at sunrise. “Whether you are a faculty or staff member, a current student or an alumnus, each of your roles is critical to supporting first-generation student success. Be the first to welcome them. Help them navigate their career. Although WE ARE the first, we will certainly not be the last!

Throughout the day, the conference’s 19 sessions (live and pre-recorded) covered topics ranging from best practices and emerging programs to research and data insights. Here are some of the specific topics covered:

  • How educators can help first-generation students overcome ‘impostor syndrome’
  • Lessons from Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) at Penn State New Kensington and Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP) at Penn State University Park
  • How the services provided by the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center can empower first-generation students
  • Penn State first-generation student data (population size, Commonwealth distribution, retention rate, etc.)
  • Benefits of Federal TRIO Programs for First Generation Students

Virtual and in-person networking opportunities were also offered. Participants participated in 39 discussion threads, posted more than 830 community forum posts, and exchanged more than 340 direct messages through Whova.

The Center for Student Success plans to make the Summit an annual tradition. In the meantime, first-generation student support advocates are encouraged to watch for details of the national celebration of first-generation colleges in early November. More details on both events will be posted on the Student Success Center website.

Questions about these events can be directed to Denise Poole ([email protected]) or Chelsey Walls, Student Success Advocate for the Student Success Center ([email protected]).

The Student Success Center is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education.