With 15,000 students returning to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) campus this fall, or beginning their college career, the student population grows more diverse each year.
Part of this diverse student population includes students who are the first in their family to pursue a higher level of education. Close to 42% of UNO undergraduates are first-generation college students.
The First Generation Guild is a collaborative community that offers support to first-generation students on campus, helping the students feel welcome and fostering a sense of community. The community also exists to offer both academic support and wellness support outside of the classroom.
The Guild operates with the Service Learning Academy and the Office of Civic and Social Responsibility to help students learn both on campus and in their own respective communities. They are also actively involved with the Thompson Learning Community and with each of the respective colleges at UNO to create a large network and reach out to as many students as possible.
Operating on campus for the past year and a half, the First Generation Guild has been raising awareness by hosting events to get students involved. Several upcoming events include the First-Generation Proud Kickoff Event on Sept. 13 and the First-Generation Faculty/Staff Symposium on Oct. 22.
Juan Casas, Ph.D. commented on why events like the Symposium in October are valuable to the UNO community as a whole.
“Part of what we hope comes out of that symposium is that the faculty and staff that are there take away actionable steps that they can use to improve the things they are doing in the classroom and make sure they give more consideration to how they can improve the first-generation experience on campus,” Casas said.
Recognition is also important for the students to know they are welcome and feel comfortable in the classroom and on the campus. First-generation students who graduate will be given a medallion recognizing their achievement, and students returning at the beginning of a new semester will receive a welcome back letter to celebrate their continued efforts in working toward a degree.
“It’s so important for first-generation students to return at semester,” said Shannon Teamer, UNO’s Director of Project Achieve. “College is a difficult task, but it takes a lot of effort and we see that effort.”
Feeling at home on campus is important to the university’s mission to providing exceptional education for all, coming from the top down. UNO Chancellor Jeffrey Gold started his academic career as a first-generation college student. The First Generation Guild’s mission to provide a supportive environment to foster success aligns with Chancellor Gold’s “Access to Exceptional” mission for the university.
“We really feel that the things that we’re going to engage in are going to be beneficial for all students,” Casas said.