The date marks the 53rd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965 which increased funding for universities, scholarships and student loans.
“First-generation” refers to students whose parents haven’t obtained a four-year college degree; the TRIO program provides them with a support system to help them navigate the landscape of higher education.
The day recognizes first-generation college students; to celebrate the accomplishments they have made, and the barriers they have broken. Montana Western and the TRIO Student Support Services staff continue to work hard to make a college degree attainable for everyone.
Deb Hedeen, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at Montana Western, was the first member of her family to attend college. She knew in high school that it would take a college degree to fulfill her career goals, but it wasn’t until she was attending college that she realized she wanted to become a professor, starting her on the path to obtain a Ph.D. in Special Education.
“I knew college would make a difference in my life,” Hedeen states.
She is very excited about the work the TRIO Office is doing to help make college a success for the students it mentors and wishes a similar program would have been available when she was starting her first degree.
First-generation UMW student Leigha Minnick of Livingston, Mont., is not only a first-generation college student, but also the first in her family to graduate from high school. As a double major in Elementary Education and Secondary Music Education K-12, Minnick loves that Montana Western’s Experience One program provides her the opportunity to gain valuable first-hand teaching experiences.
“I’ve pushed myself past a point I never thought I could reach,” she said.
Minnick is very grateful for the help and guidance the TRIO office and staff have offered throughout her college experience. She notes that having a TRIO advisor has really helped to keep her focused on her goals while at Montana Western.
UMW Junior, Harley Barnett from Townsend, Mont., also agrees that the TRIO office has proven an invaluable tool to help her through college.
“They do an awesome job pointing me in the right direction to resources. I appreciate them so much,” said Barnett who is a double major in Health and Human Performance and Psychology with a minor in coaching. Her future goal is to become a physical therapist.
As a first-generation college student, Barnett has found the professors at UMW to be very accommodating. Montana Western’s unique block scheduling system, Experience One, has allowed Barnett to be able to work at a local business while still focusing on her studies.
Colton McCall, originally from Louisiana, came from a family of military tradesmen. With a desire to learn more about protecting the environment, McCall was intrigued by Montana Western’s block scheduling and their nationally ranked Environmental Sciences program. Excited about the opportunity, he and his family headed to Dillon.
“I feel like this university is really connected to the town. I like how they bring the close-knit community feeling into the classroom,” McCall said.
Being a first-generation college student with a family did present its challenges, but the TRIO office was right there to help McCall and his family successfully transition to the community of Dillon.
Sophomore Reagan Turcotte, a Secondary History Education major from Townsend, Mont., feels very supported at Montana Western and appreciates that the TRIO office offers computers and printer access for TRIO students. He acknowledges that it may seem like a small detail but having immediate access to technology in the TRIO office has been extremely helpful during his college career.
“They’re awesome and always willing to help,” Turcotte said about the staff at the TRIO office.
Montana Western Assistant Professor of Education, Katrina Kennett, Ph.D., was a first-generation college student originally from Concord, New Hampshire. After completing her degrees at universities across the country, Kennett explains that not having family nearby while going to college was sometimes challenging, which is why she appreciates that students at Montana Western have access to the TRIO office and staff. As an instructor, Kennett often consults with TRIO advisors to gain perspective on the best way to help students be successful.
It can, at times, seem difficult to traverse a fast-paced college setting but Kennett recommends that all current and prospective college students stay open to new ideas.
“College is an important opportunity to figure out who you want to be,” Kennett said.
Montana Western will be celebrating First-Generation College Student Day with a variety of activities:
- The display bookshelves in the UMW library will feature first-generation authors November 5-9.
- A TRIO booth will be open in the UMW library from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on November 8.
- At the booth, there will be badges for current and past First-Generation students, faculty and staff.
- Currently enrolled first-generation students can enter a drawing for a chance to win a $100 scholarship donated by the Montana Western Foundation.
The Center for First-Generation Student Success encourages all first-generation students to share their stories on social media using the hashtag #celebratefirstgen. The Center hopes the presence on social media will spark a national conversation, celebrating first-generation students across the country.
For more information about the University of Montana Western TRIO Student Support Services office and provided services, please visit their website.