Penn Staters gather for inaugural First-Generation Student Support Summit

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 330 Penn State advocates of first-generation students from across Pennsylvania and beyond attended the inaugural First-Generation Student Support Summit, held virtually on May 4.

The one-day conference, which was sponsored by the Student Success Center, provided an opportunity for first-gen student advocates — including Penn State faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators and alumni — to recognize and strengthen this student population.

Denise Poole, who directs the Student Success Center, said, “The level of engagement we saw on May 4 was incredible, and it speaks to how committed Penn Staters are to the success of first-generation students — and to our student body as a whole. We hope the conversations the conference sparked will continue in earnest in the year ahead, and we look forward to future events focused on first-generation student success.”

Penn State defines “first-generation student” as any student whose immediate parents or legal guardians have not completed a baccalaureate degree. Approximately one in four currently enrolled Penn State undergraduates identifies as first-generation, according to data collected during the admissions process.

The virtual conference, held on the Whova platform, was free to attendees and open to all members of the Penn State community. Participants represented 20 residential Penn State campuses and Penn State World Campus.

The conference began in the morning with a brief welcome from Poole followed by the keynote address from Noel Claudio, first-generation college graduate of Penn State (information sciences and technology, class of 2014) and LatinX in tech advocate who works as a strategy and operations analyst for Twitter.

“My biggest piece of advice for everyone here is to be first,” said Claudio in his address, which he delivered from San Francisco as the sun rose. “Whether you are a faculty or staff member, a current student or an alum, each of your roles is crucial to supporting the success of first-gen students. Be the first to welcome them. Help them navigate their careers. While WE ARE the first, we definitely won’t be the last!”

Throughout the day, the conference’s 19 sessions (live and pre-recoded) addressed topics ranging from best practices and emerging programs to research and data insights. Just a few of the specific topics discussed included:

  • How educators can support first-generation students in overcoming “imposter syndrome”
  • Lessons learned from Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) at Penn State New Kensington and Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP) at Penn State University Park
  • How services provided by the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center can empower first-generation students
  • Data on Penn State’s first-generation students (population size, distribution across the Commonwealth, retention rates, etc.)
  • Benefits of the federal TRIO programs for first-generation students

Opportunities for virtual and in-person networking were also provided. Participants engaged with 39 discussion threads, posted more than 830 community board messages and exchanged more than 340 direct messages through Whova.

The Student Success Center plans to make the Summit an annual tradition. In the meantime, first-generation student support advocates are encouraged to watch for details on the National First-Generation College Celebration in early November. More details on both events will be posted on the Student Success Center website.

Questions about these events can be directed to Denise Poole ([email protected]) or Chelsey Walls, student success advocate for the Student Success Center ([email protected]).

The Student Success Center is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education.

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