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The Northland Celebrates First Generation College Students

Emily Ness
Updated: November 08, 2019 10:36 PM

To be the first in the family to attend college is an accomplishment that has been recognized nationally. On Friday, the Northland recognized its own share of first generation college students at both the College of St. Scholastica and UW Superior.

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“It’s really nice to celebrate being a first generation college student and then having actually already graduated because there are those barriers that make it very difficult to kind of get through and navigate,” Will Richardson, alumni of the College of St. Scholastica said.

At the College of St. Scholastica, first generation students were inducted into a new first generation honor society called Tri Alpha. In order to qualify for the honor society, students had to complete a designated amount of coursework and have an overall GPA of at least 3.2.

“There’s so many obstacles—it’s nice celebrating this, knowing that we made it through the obstacles,” Olivia Bontems, senior at St. Scholastica said.

Some of these obstacles include filling out college applications and financial aid paperwork, coming up with the transportation and means to go on college tours and balancing other responsibilities. Kara Thoemke, Associate Professor of Biology at St. Scholastica said that much of this carries over into students' college careers.

“Many of them are working outside of school. Often times, they have family responsibilities on top of all their school work, so they have additional challenges,” Thoemke said.

During the Tri Alpha honor society induction ceremony, first generation students received a certificate on behalf of their hard work.

“The award we’re receiving is ‘hey, we’re doing great, we’re first generation and we’re honoring ourselves tonight for that,’” Bontems said.

In all, St. Scholastica inducted 76 students from 19 different majors into the honor society.

“They’re really quite an amazing group of students—they’re academically very strong,” Thoemke said. “We have students going into healthcare, into PHD programs, into science, the arts—and they all are involved in the community in different ways.”

At UW Superior, first generation students were celebrated at an event that included speeches from Senator Janet Bewley and Mayor Jim Payne.

“This is the second year that we’ve celebrated national first generation day,” Dr. Mikey Fitch-Collins, Director of Trio Support Services said. “We’ve invited several of our government representatives, our state representatives, our state senator, our local mayor as well as our Dean of students here on campus to be able to really bring that joy and that passion and celebrate our first generation students, as well as, our first generation staff on campus.”

According to Fitch-Collins, nearly half of UW Superior students are first generation students. Fitch-Collins said a high number of UW Superior staff too, are the first in their families to attend college.

“One of the things that I think is really great for a lot of our students is they’re able to see their own selves kind of reflected in the people who are teaching them and supporting them and helping to pave the paths for them here on campus,” Fitch-Collins said.

For UW Superior, part of paving that path is acknowledging first generation students and the obstacles that they face.

“Being a first generation student—I felt that I wasn’t going to get noticed a lot, but I really do feel like a lot of people notice that there is a lot of first generation students that go here and that you know, some of them don’t like saying that they are, but you know, it’s okay to embrace that you are,” Phabien Sturtze, sophomore at UW Superior said.

Additionally, UW Superior strives to celebrate all of the successes first generation students make.

“It’s scary at first because you’re going to a completely new place, but you’re going to meet so many new people and you’re going to experience so many different things and it’s such a great opportunity to get out in the world and experience something outside of what you’re used to,” Sturtze said.

Both college’s celebrations were part of many going on nationally. The goal behind them was to ensure that first generation college students are recognized and celebrated with the hopes that schools will continue to help them break barriers every day.

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Emily Ness

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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