By Ryan Girves
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2021) — Firsts can be scary. The first time riding a bike or learning how to drive, or a first job — all scary. Being the first in your family to do something — even scarier.
Austin Huff, a first-generation University of Kentucky senior from Topmost, a small town in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, knows this all too well.
With a dream of making a change in his small town, Huff came to UK to make his dreams reality, despite his hesitations.
“My hometown has some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, and some of the worst health conditions in the nation,” Huff said. “My inspiration for coming to college was making a change for the place I call home. After graduation, I want to attend law school and I want to return to my community and become a labor attorney and work on labor conditions and rights for the people of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. That is my purpose and that is my drive.”
While his dreams were big, Huff’s determination to make a change was bigger.
With the help of support programs offered by First-Generation Student Advising, housed in the Office for Student Success, Huff is one step closer to that dream. On a pre-law pathway, Huff will graduate this December with a degree in political science and a minor in Appalachian studies.
First-Generation Student Advising supports first-generation students at UK from recruitment to graduation through research-based programs, resources and best practices.
“The University of Kentucky is committed to supporting the academic, career and personal goals of its first-generation students,” said Martina Martin, associate director of Student Community Resources and Services. “This is evident in the recent recognitions as a NASPA First-Gen Forward Institution and NASPA First-Gen Forward Advisory Institution. The First-Gen Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education who have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students.”
Advocating for the needs of first-generation students within their colleges, First-Generation Student Advising collaborates with offices across campus to provide the best resources to promote the success of first-generation students at UK. Current efforts include:
- Program Advising: The program advisor monitors the transition into college life, academic progress, early alerts and midterm grade reports.
- Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society-Upsilon Chapter: Promotes academic excellence and provides opportunities for personal growth, leadership development and campus and community service for first-generation college students.
- First-Generation Student Organization: The organization is designed to support, educate and promote the needs of students who are the first in their families to go to college.
- Wildcats First Early Move-In: First-generation students have the option to move in early and take part in a host of informative sessions and activities prior to the start of K Week.
- Wildcats First: This program serves as a campuswide collaboration dedicated to addressing the academic success, belonging and engagement, health and wellness and financial stability of first-generation college students.
- First-Gen Conference, April 2022: In partnership with Student Support Services, the conference, themed “The Power of One,” will be a motivating and informative program connecting shared experiences among students who are the first in their family to attend college.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, being a first-generation college student is one of the most often cited predictors of higher education failure. Beyond issues of retention and completion, many first-generation students face day-to-day challenges as they navigate social, academic, financial and administrative challenges.
Although research shows that first-generation students face barriers when it comes to higher education, that does not mean that these students are not capable.
Facing these barriers head on, UK works to remove any and all limitations for first-generations students.
The proof is in the pudding for Huff.
“Having this support has helped me become successful in my college career and has helped me turn being a first-generation student from a disadvantage into an advantage,” Huff said. “For me, it is about the community that I have developed with other first-generation students. We are all going through the same things and being involved in things like the First-Generation Honor Society, Tri-Alpha or the First-Generation Living Learning Program has really helped me develop a comradery with other first-generation students.”
To celebrate the often-unsung accomplishments of a population representing one-fourth of all currently enrolled students, UK will host First-Generation Student Week Nov. 8-12 to coincide with the national First-Generation College Celebration.
"Celebrations such as this serves to enhance a sense of pride in being first-gen and to celebrate the accomplishments, successes and the resiliency of our first-gen students," Martin said. "It’s a way for us to say, 'you belong here at the University of Kentucky.' It’s a way for us to show these trailblazers they are a part of a greater community that recognizes their diversity and contributions to this campus. Students, as well as families, faculty and staff, can see, learn about and experience the support network designed just for them.”
First-Generation Advising has recently relocated to the Gatton Student Center. The addition is home to several units in the Office for Student Success. In its new home, First-Generation Advising is centrally located to accommodate students in the “living room” of campus.
Ready to serve the first-generation population, First-Generation Advising helps students discover what is wildly possible with the University of and for Kentucky.
Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to follow the weeklong celebration on social media by using the hashtag #CelebrateFirstGen. To learn more about life as a first-generation student at the university, tune into the "Power of One" podcast. The podcast shares new episodes weekly and can be found on Spotify.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.