UNT proudly participated in the national day to celebrate first-generation college students on Nov. 8 with its first annual First-Generation Celebration, hosted by the Division of Student Affairs, the Multicultural Center and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.

In celebration of the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) decided to nationally celebrate first-generation college students on campuses across the U.S. Nationally, it is estimated that 50% of college students are first generation, and 89% of low-income first-generation students leave colleges within six years without a degree and more than 25% leave after their first year.

“It was critical for UNT to participate in this day of celebration given the importance first-generation college students play on our campus,” said Melissa McGuire, assistant vice president for student affairs. “Forty-two percent of our undergraduate population—or, 13,108 of 31,209 undergraduates last year—are first-generation college students. This is a significant number and proves that in all of our classes and programs, we are serving first-generation college students. It is imperative for faculty and staff to understand the unique challenges of this population so that we can ensure their success at UNT.”

UNT First-Generation Celebration Speaker Kayla CastroTo highlight first-generation voices at the event, UNT students, staff and faculty shared their personal experiences, with many noting the difficulties first-generation students face in filling out college applications and complex FAFSA forms and paying tuition. Participants included: Kelsey Rodriguez, Roxy Verrelli, Kayla Castro, Lindsay Kline, Leslie Rios Cruz, Tom Miles, and Vianet Fuentes. A panel discussion featuring Michael Silvey, Jimmy Marquez, Alessandra De La Rosa and Jessie Gowen and moderated by Sara Watkins, coordinator for the Emerald Eagle Scholars Program, followed.

“My parents didn’t graduate from high school, and I didn’t even know the SAT and ACT existed,” said Roxy Verrelli, employer development coordinator for the Career Center. “I was 49 when I applied as a student to UNT and didn’t think it would be possible, but perseverance and passion is what it takes.”

“Being a first-generation student means struggling through the process so that the rest of my family won’t have to,” said student Jessie Gowen.

“As a first generation student, you need to have perseverance, believe in yourself and take advantage of the opportunities education affords you,” said student Kayla Castro.

“My parents valued education because they didn’t have it,” said student Kelsey Rodriguez. “I thought I couldn’t be successful in college because I was a statistic, and there were times when I wanted to give up, but my stubbornness pushed me through the complexities of this new experience. First generation is a title I am so proud to wear.”

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Contact: Ray Willhoft, 940-565-2464, raymond.willhoft@unt.edu