Elon to celebrate first-generation college students with special event series

The First-Generation College Celebration, planned for Nov. 5-10, will feature a series of events honoring and recognizing Elon students who are the first in their families to attend college.

In a celebration of Elon’s first-generation college students, the university will host a series of upcoming events to support and raise awareness of undergraduates blazing new trails as the first in their families to attend college.

The First-Generation College Celebration is a four-day event hosted by Elon’s First-Generation Student Support Services, one of four access initiatives in the Center for Access and Success. The celebration will feature a variety of events, including an awards ceremony, social media campaign, student-led panel and a lecture from an expert on first-generation student success.

“We just want to celebrate the first-generation identity loud and proud,” said Oscar Miranda, an Elon alumnus who now works at the university as assistant director of first-generation student support services. Miranda, a first-generation student himself, has spearheaded the efforts to organize Elon’s celebration of first-generation students.

The celebration coincides with National First-Generation College Day on Nov. 8. The day marks the anniversary of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which strengthened access to postsecondary education for first-generation or low-income students.

Four events will make up the celebration, beginning with the inaugural First-Generation College Awards Gala on Nov. 5. The virtual event will highlight the efforts of first-generation students and alumni, as well as the faculty, staff and advocates who support them.

The event will include the announcement of this year’s Robert & Ann Hamby First-Generation Student Experience Fund honoree, who will receive funding to participate in one of the five Elon Experiences – Global Engagement (Study Abroad), Service, Leadership, Internships or Undergraduate Research. The ceremony will also include an announcement about the new Helen Flynn Walton Fund for the Center for Access and Success, an endowment established by former faculty member and Elon Medallion recipient Helen Flynn Walton. The endowment will be used for programming and to meet the needs of first-generation or Odyssey student scholars at Elon.

On Nov. 6, the celebration continues with a social media campaign focused on the rebranding efforts of First-Generation Student Support Services. The virtual event will include food and prize giveaways for students who engage with the organization’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

On Monday, Nov. 9, a panel of first-generation college students at Elon will discuss their identities and the challenges they face, as well as some of the resources they’ve used to successfully navigate their college journeys.

The celebration will conclude on Nov. 10 with a Fireside Chat, featuring Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Jack holds the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He is also author of the highly acclaimed book “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students,” which was awarded the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, CEP Mildred Garcia Award for Exemplary Scholarship, and the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize and was named a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award and an NPR Book’s Best Book of 2019.

Jack will discuss his book, as well as issues facing higher education in a discussion moderated by Miranda and Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley. Following opening remarks and a few curated questions, Miranda and Dooley will turn to the Elon community for a live Q&A session during the event. The virtual discussion will be available via Zoom to anyone with an Elon email address.

A group of first-generation students at Elon poses with Elon First Gen t-shirts during the First-Generation College Celebration in November 2019.

“I hope for students to be inspired, for students to know what’s possible, for faculty and staff to also learn about the first-generation college student identity,” said Miranda, who learned from Jack in his time as a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “I also hope for people to see Dr. Jack as an inspiration and a colleague in the fight to advocate for first-generation college students.”

Following four days of events raising awareness about first-generation college students and the issues and challenges they face, Miranda hopes the celebration encourages Elon’s first-generation students and helps them feel supported as they strive to reach their goals.

“A college education and the ability to graduate from college can change the trajectory of generations to come for those families, those students,” Miranda said. “For me, that’s creating this generational change that I would love to see everyone have.”

For more information about support systems for Elon’s first-generation college students, visit the First-Generation Student Support Services website here.