By Bill Studenc
The Office for Student Retention at Western Carolina University hosted a series of events during the 2023 spring semester to help restart an organization for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
The revival of the First Gen Club, an initiative sponsored by the Mentoring and Persistence to Success Program, was made possible by $5,000 from the 1889 Impact Grants initiative through the Fund for WCU.
Part of the Office for Student Retention, MAPS sponsored six events last semester for first-generation students at WCU. Events included paint nights in which a WCU art instructor guided first-generation students in creating their own works of art, a panel discussion designed to provide job search and networking advice to first-generation students, a paint-and-plant event where participants decorated terracotta pots and filled them with soil and seeds, and an end-of-year picnic where graduating club members received First Gen pins to wear at commencement, said Anita Puerto, associate director of student retention and MAPS coordinator.
The First Gen Alumni Panel, held in March in collaboration with the Office of Engagement, brought four WCU first-generation alumni back to campus to provide first-hand information and pointers to students about entering the job market.
The semester’s final event for the club was an end-of-term cookout, designed as an opportunity to honor the organization’s six graduating officers and present them with commencement pins symbolizing their first-generation status. Additional “swag” items such as purple totes and water bottles will be distributed to current club members as part of National First Gen Day celebrations in November, Puerto said.
“The students felt an increased sense of belonging simply because of the opportunities we were able to provide – and solely because of this grant,” she said. “First-generation students at WCU will forever be affected by these six events and these swag items because it was so much more than that. It is about the chance we had to acknowledge and appreciate them – that is the impact.”
Launched in 2021, the 1889 Impact Grants Program is designed to provide a consistent source of funding for colleges and other units at WCU in support of initiatives that enhance the engagement of alumni and community stakeholders with the philanthropic activities of the university.
Funding for the program comes from annual contributions to the Fund for WCU, including leadership gifts from members of the 1889 Club, which recognizes donors for gifts made on an annual basis to the Fund for WCU. The club, among four giving societies established by the Division of Advancement to celebrate the impact of philanthropy on the institution, is named in honor of the year of WCU’s founding.
Campus partners requested more than $200,000 in 1889 Impact Grants through 16 campuswide grant applications for the 2022-2023 academic year, and the Division of Advancement allocated $43,500 overall for eight awards, a slight increase from the inaugural $40,000 in grant funding awarded last year.
The WCU Foundation Board Executive Committee reviews all submissions and selects the awardees in the fall of each year. In addition to the 1889 Impact Grants Program, the Fund for WCU provides first-year access scholarships to new incoming freshmen and supports ongoing donor stewardship efforts.
Learn more about how the Fund for WCU and 1889 Impact Grants provided support for this project.