Dean Daniel Clay speaks in front of audience

November 4, 2019

University of Iowa College of Education students, faculty, and staff reflected on their experiences as first-generation students in a panel discussion on Monday, November 4th, in the Baker Teacher Leader Center.

First-Generation students are the first in their immediate family to attend college. While first-generation students are often academically prepared, they tend to graduate at lower rates than their peers, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These students often deal with social isolation, financial concerns, and fear of failure or a sense they do not belong at school.

“Being a first-generation student, I thought I wasn’t smart enough to be here, so I never wanted to speak up, “ says Elementary Education student Melissa Cruz. “ But we bring a very unique perspective to class and our professors and our peers want to hear from us.”

As an undergraduate first-generation student at the University of Colorado, doctoral candidate in Higher Education and Student Affairs, Cole Dennison, says experienced extreme financial distress and basic needs insecurity.  After the financial crash of 2008, Dennison was let go from his full-time job, and was forced to live out of his car while completing his degree. Without support from university faculty, Dennison says he would not have been able to finish his degree.

“I reached out to my professors and told them about my situation. If it wasn’t for faculty and staff on campus that invested in me, I wouldn’t be here,” says Dennison. “First-generation students are especially at risk for issues of basic needs insecurity. As faculty, if you talk about resources available to students who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity, it can go a long way in helping your students.

Twenty percent of College of Education students identify as first-generation students. The panel served as part of an ongoing commitment to supporting first-generation students in the College of Education.

“On our campus, there are people here who care about you. I want to make sure students know that it is okay to ask for help,” says College of Education Dean Daniel Clay, who was also a first-generation student. “These discussions are so important as we find ways to support all of our students and encourage them to be successful.”

A College of Education First-Gen Task Force has been formed to support undergraduate and graduate First-Generation Students.

The panel is part of a full week of events at the University of Iowa honoring National First-Generation College Celebration. For more university-wide events, visit: https://firstgen.uiowa.edu/events-initiatives/national-first-generation-college-celebration.

To learn more about College of Education-specific events, visit https://education.uiowa.edu/firstgen-2019.