Being the first to go to college from your family can be a daunting prospect. For University of St. Thomas junior Jasmine Kaur, the process has been easier thanks to the work of people on campus and a resource group for first generation college students.

“Personally, St. Thomas has given me resources to excel as a first-gen student,” Kaur said. “I think meeting people through the program is how St. Thomas has helped the most. It brought together a group of students who are all going through the same things. Through that, I found so many great friends who are like family to me today.”

Kaur’s experience is one of many reasons the University of St. Thomas has been named a First-gen Forward institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success. This designation acknowledges that St. Thomas has a strong commitment to assisting and cultivating successful experiences for first-generation college students. With this recognition, St. Thomas joins 58 other institutions in the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort and 157 other institutions from the previous two cohorts.

“St. Thomas has helped me in multiple ways as a first-generation student, said Kevyn Perkins ’22 (pictured above). “I’ve made great connections and have taken advantage of life-changing opportunities!”

Approximately 18% of students at St. Thomas identify as a first-generation student. The main source of resources for them at St. Thomas is the Proud to Be First program, which aids first-generation students as they transition into college. The program and webpage offer a wide variety of services for students, and the Proud to Be First Committee has representatives from many sections on campus, including the Dean of Students, Academic Counseling, Admissions, Career Development, Dougherty Family College, Financial Aid, Residence Life, Retention and Student Success, as well as Student Diversity and Inclusion Services. The program’s goal is to provide all the resources that first-gen students may need to succeed during their time at St. Thomas.

First-gen Forward logo.“This designation and our institutional efforts align with the priorities of St. Thomas 2025 to broaden our reach and grow and support a more diverse student body,” said Tonia Peterson, University of St. Thomas director of retention and student success and co-chair of the Proud to Be First Committee. “We recognize the richness of identities, strengths and cultural capital that our first-generation students bring to the University of St. Thomas.”

Many leaders at St. Thomas like President Julie Sullivan and Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Lange can also relate to first-gen students because they were first-generation students themselves.

“I am proud to be a first-generation college student,” Lange said. “When I went to college, I spent much of my time in cocurricular related events, which helped me adjust to college and become more confident. I lived in the residence halls for four years and participated in leadership opportunities within the residence hall community, including being a RA. I was able to apply what I learned in the classroom into my role as a student leader on campus. I also took advantage of the resources on campus.”

With the designation of a First-gen Forward institution, committee members are looking to expand on the program and on all the progress that they have already made. In fall 2020, St. Thomas offered a First Gen section of the First-Year Experience course for the first time and have announced that it will be adding a second section in fall 2021. The committee also looks forward to collaborating and learning from other institutions within their cohort, including North Central College in Illinois and Marquette University in Wisconsin.

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