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Experiences of first-generation students to be highlighted during daylong celebration

The stories and successes of Western Carolina University’s first-generation students will be showcased Thursday, Nov. 8, at the university’s inaugural First-Generation College Celebration, with a full day of activities scheduled in and around A.K. Hinds University Center.

WCU’s Mentoring and Persistence to Success office, also known as MAPS, is joining with the First-Generation Advisory Board and the First-Generation Club to host the event. It will serve as the official launch for WCU’s new First-Generation Advocate Program, which will provide a more comprehensive support system for first-generation students on campus, including a network of faculty and staff advocates who understand their unique needs, said Janina DeHart, MAPS assistant director.

Since the announcement of the program in September, 57 members of the WCU faculty and staff, representing 34 university units, have stepped forward to serve as First-Generation Advocates. A logo identifying them as such will be displayed on their office doors.

Two-hour training sessions were provided to the advocates in October to allow them to learn more about what it means to be a first-generation college student and how to best support those students.

About 43 percent of WCU’s students have identified as first-generation students for the past two years, and that number has increased over the years, DeHart said. The university considers a student to be first generation if neither parent/guardian has completed a four-year degree, even if at least one parent has earned a two-year degree or some college credit.

The First-Generation College Celebration at WCU on Nov. 8 is part of a series of events being held on college campuses nationwide. That day marks the 53rd anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which has helped millions of economically disadvantaged students become the first members of their families to go to college.

The event on campus also is meant to highlight the experiences of WCU faculty and staff who were first-generation college students, DeHart said.

The celebration will begin with an information table and activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the UC lawn, with cards for first-generation students to fill out and tell their stories, photo opportunities and sign-up for the First-Generation Club and the MAPS mentor program.

A gathering will take place at noon at the Central Plaza fountain, beginning with a welcome from Brian Gorman, MAPS director, and recognition of those in the audience who are first generation. That will be followed by a keynote address about “The Significance of the First-Generation College Experience” by Brian Railsback, professor of English and a First-Generation Advocate. A responsive reading, “We are first-gen,” will be led by DeHart to close out the noon gathering.

At 3:30 p.m., a first-generation discussion panel will be held in the UC theater. The panel of first-generation students, faculty and staff will share their experiences, successes and challenges, followed by a question-and-answer session and reception. The discussion will be live-streamed on the WCU Facebook site.

The day’s activities will close out with a First-Generation Club social event – a screening of the movie "Accepted" at 7 p.m. in Room 130 of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

An additional event is set for noon Saturday, Nov. 10, when WCU’s Department of Athletics recognizes first-generation students, and student-athletes, at the first men’s home basketball game of the season.

For more information, contact MAPS at 828-227-7172 or

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