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At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, being a first-generation college student is a reason to celebrate. On Nov. 8 every year since 2017, college campuses across the United States are encouraged to celebrate their first-generation students and all of their achievements.

First-generation students are individuals who are the very first in their family to attend college. This was seen as an accomplishment and a way to lead by example for many of the students who attended the event. Breanna Pence, a freshman at Stout explained what it meant to her to be a first-generation student.

“For me, nobody in my family went to college except for an uncle, so growing up he was always my hero,” Pence said. “I always knew college was what I wanted to do for my career. So now that I’m here, it’s not just me that I’m here for, it’s my whole family.”

TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) is a key on-campus resource for Stout students who are first-generation, are at or below the federal poverty line, and/or are disabled. This office hosts the event, and teams up with the campus’ Involvement Center and SpeakUp! program. Jamie Vue, a TRIO writing specialist and advisor helped coordinate this year’s event. Vue says that TRIO is working to make this celebration an annual occurrence.

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“I think the first-generation celebration is one of the ways in which we can show what offices, programs, and resources we have here on campus to help support [first-generation students] in their college endeavors,” Vue said. She explained that it’s a great way for students to connect with faculty and staff who were also first-generation students.

“I think one of the common shared threads of being a first-generation student is that you’re kind of on this journey by yourself and you’re not aware that about more than half of Stout’s student population are first-generation students,” she explained.

Vue herself was a first-generation student. She said she experienced the imposter syndrome and felt alone and out of place. She said she wasn’t aware of the resources on campus that would have supported her in her undergrad career.

Events and celebrations like the one that recently took place are meant to acknowledge the struggles that can come with being a first-generation student, and in turn shape those struggles in a positive way to highlight the strength that comes with them.

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