Proud to be First-Generation!

UNH Hosts National First-Generation College Student Celebration.


Emma Baressi

Students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of UNH the community gather for the first-generation celebration kickoff event.

Melanie Matts, Managing Editor

DURHAM- November 8 is National First Generation College day, a day to honor the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The day of celebration has created opportunities to have conversations about first-generation college students’ experiences and outcomes on a national level. 

A first-generation college student is roughly defined as someone whose parents did not complete a four-year college or university degree, according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success

The University of New Hampshire (UNH), dedicated a week of events to recognize and celebrate first-generation students, faculty, staff and alumni. At UNH, one in four students are first-generation, approximately 25% of campus.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, the Institute for Student Success debuted the week-long celebration with a kickoff event inviting first-generation students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community to come together and share their experiences via networking and refreshments in the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Granite State Room. 

Emma Baressi

The kickoff event featured a variety of speakers starting with Dr. Nadine Petty, associate vice president for the Division of Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at UNH. 

“Being the first in my immediate family to earn a college degree is a point of pride, not just personally, but also for my mother who always pushed for both my sister and I to go to college and earn degrees,” said Petty. 

Following Petty’s opening speech, representatives from the offices of Senator Maggie Hassan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Congresswoman Ann Kuster and Congressman Chris Pappas, shared words of encouragement towards first-generation students. 

The presentation of speakers concluded with Dr. Dawna Perez, executive director of UNH’s Institute for Student Success, who shared her own personal story as a first-generation student and what that has meant for her personally and within her career. 

In an interview with TNH, Perez said being a first-generation student “has always played a role in everything I’ve done.” She continued, “ It’s guided my mission in life.”

Prior to her 16 years working in higher education, Perez worked in non-profit. She stated that her work has always been around “education, families, workforce, helping people to maximize whatever their potential is, whatever strengths they had to just keep moving forward.”

After opening remarks and presentations from speakers, attendees got to know one another with “first-generation networking bingo,” which allowed them to share their experiences as first-generation students in a fun and creative way.

Emma Baressi

Fourth-year Psychology major, Sam Leone, emphasized the responsibility that comes with being a first-generation college student. 

“It makes me proud of myself, but it’s also a lot of pressure…My parents didn’t go to college and neither did my brother, my aunts, my uncles, so I’m one of the first in my whole family.”

One of the jack-pot questions that got attendees reflecting was, “What would you like to tell other first-generation college students?”

“The words written in your head are not written on your forehead. People don’t know that you’re a first-generation student. They’re not saying ‘wow that person doesn’t know what they’re doing, they are not like us,’ no one is thinking that,” said Justin Wentworth, a first-year Environmental Conservation and Sustainability major. 

Wentworth continued, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and give them hell. You have every capability of anyone else!”

Emma Baressi

Fourth-year Finance major, Victoria Walters said, “I would tell them (first-generation students) not to be afraid to ask their peers about their experience, or faculty or anyone that they’re able to reach out to.”

The celebrations continued for the week, leading up to Nov. 8, when President James W. Dean, sent out an email highlighting all of the celebrations that took place on campus and the different organizations involved.

The other events included a first-generation panel, scavenger hunt, entrepreneurship center open house and first-generation fest. The events were scattered around campus from Nov. 2, to Nov. 8.

“Events hosted by Paul College, the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, the MUB, the E-Center, Health & Wellness, the Beauregard Center, and Hamel Rec Center filled the week with many opportunities for engagement, and I hope you were able to take part,” Dean said. 

Attached to the email was a video where Dean shared his experience as a first-generation college student and offered resources available at UNH.

Perez emphasized that there is no one identity for a first-generation college student. 

“Although first-generation college is an identity, a lot of students who claim what it means to be first-gen can differ widely among people. And certainly, first gen students are not a monolith.”

Emma Baressi