Elon celebrates first-generation college community in virtual awards gala

The Center for Access and Success honored Elon's first-generation college students and the community that supports them in a special awards gala on Thursday night.

The Elon community gathered virtually for an evening of celebration on Thursday, as the campus recognized and honored Elon’s first-generation college student community.

The Center for Access and Success paid tribute to a group of Elon students, who are the first in their families to attend college, during the inaugural First-Generation College Community Awards Gala. The virtual gala marked the start of a four-day event hosted by the Center for Access and Success’ First-Generation Student Support Services. The celebration coincides with National First-Generation College Day on Nov. 8.

Thursday’s gala served as a celebration of the students, faculty, staff and advocates who make up the university’s first-generation college student community.

“To our first-generation college community, we are so proud of you and eagerly look forward to all you will undertake through your journey here with us,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for access and success and professor of education, during Thursday’s event.

The awards ceremony honored the following students and staff:

Outstanding First-Generation College Staff/Faculty Award

Denise Teeters, program assistant for access and success

The award is given to staff or faculty who continuously strive to make a positive impact in the lives of first-generation students. Teeters was nominated by students for her mentorship and willingness to listen and meet their needs on campus and in the classroom.

Robert & Ann Hamby First-Generation Student Experience Fund Award

NOVEMBER 6, 2020: Kaitlyn Moonsammy ’21, an accounting major, received the the Robert and Ann Hamby First-Generation Student Experience Fund award during a virtual ceremony. (photo by Kim Walker)

Kaitlyn Moonsammy ’21

The Robert & Ann Hamby First-Generation Student Experience Fund awards its honorees with funding to participate in one of the five Elon Experiences – Global Engagement (Study Abroad), Service, Leadership, Internships or Undergraduate Research. The selection committee chose Moonsammy, an accounting major who will graduate early and is enrolled in Elon’s Master of Science in Accounting program, as the 2020 recipient.

“As a first-generation student, my parents have always been my motivation and inspiration to not only reach their expectations but also pass them,” Moonsammy said. “I am very grateful for this award as it will enable me to pursue a career that I know will make my parents more proud than they already are.”

Moonsammy plans to use the funding to support herself as she interns at KPMG during the summer. She plans to one day become a certified CPA, working in auditing.

Outstanding First-Generation Advocate Award

Catherine Parsons, assistant director of the Odyssey Scholars Program

This award serves to recognize a member of the Elon community who has done outstanding work in actively promoting and supporting the advancement of first-generation students and their success. Parsons was selected by the first-generation student community because of her willingness to always go the extra mile for students and be there whenever they need her.

Outstanding First-Generation Student Achievement Awards

Mikayla Edwards ’21

Kevin Alvarado ’21

The two seniors were recognized with Outstanding First-Generation Student Achievement Awards for their success and impacts in the classroom and across campus. Edwards was selected for her role as a “phenomenal human, friend, student, role model and mentor” in the first-generation college student community, as well as her outstanding academic achievements and mentorship roles on campus. Alvarado was recognized for his academic achievements and for establishing the university’s first all-Latino fraternity on campus, Lambda Upsilon Lambda.

Thursday’s gala also included the announcement of 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.

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This year’s First-Generation College Celebration continues Friday, Nov. 6, with a social media campaign hosted by First-Generation Student Support Services.

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.