Celebrating first-generation students

red I'm First button celebrating first-generation students

In the broadest sense, being a first-generation college student means that your family does not have a tradition of going to college. More specifically, to be “first-generation” means that your parents did not complete a four-year college degree. The Center for First-Generation Student Success states that while first-generation students are “often quite academically skilled and contribute in many ways to a campus community, navigating the tangled web of college policies, procedures, jargon, and expectations can be a challenge” (source).

At Hanover College, 36% of students will be the first person in their family to graduate with a four-year college degree. 35 of our staff and faculty members also identify as first-generation. The Office of Student Success works closely with our first-gen students to help them acclimate and succeed on campus. Below, we highlight students, faculty and staff who share their first-gen experience and how it influences their time at Hanover.

Brandon Allwood, Head Women's Lacrosse Coach

Brandon Allwood
Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach

I feel that my life would be significantly different had I not been a first-generation college student. College was never the expectation; it was a personal goal I had set for myself. There was nobody there to tell me what to do or how to do it.  This allowed me to have more control over why I was going to college, what I did while in college and the route that I proceeded to go afterwards. That’s not to say that there weren’t challenges. Many times, I was put into situations where I didn’t know what to do; whether that was paying for college, making sure I had the insurance to play a sport, or applying for scholarships when college got more expensive. These moments never outweighed the positives, but these experiences have helped me become more aware of the young people I recruit to and coach on the Hanover College Women’s Lacrosse team. I feel comfortable and confident that if they are joining or currently a part of our program, they will have someone who can help them throughout their entire college experience, whether they be a first-generation college student or not.

Jared Bates, Professor of Philosophy

Jared Bates, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy

College-educated parents can share experiences and practical guidance that most first-gen students can’t get from their own parents. This makes acculturating to college take longer for first-gen students, which also makes it less of a sure thing. I know this, because I was a first-generation college student, too. Because of this, I find it deeply satisfying not only to see our first-generation students make it at Hanover College, but also to see what they go on to accomplish with their Hanover educations. For these students, a Hanover education truly opens their futures beyond what their parents or grandparents might have hoped or even imagined.

Hailey Cocke, biology major and class of 2022

Hailey Cocke ’22
Biology major

Being a first-generation student has been a driving force encouraging me to obtain my degree. I knew attending a college with a smaller, tight-knit community like Hanover would be the perfect fit for me and I love all the opportunities I have had both academically and socially. As I get closer to graduation in May, I’m reminded of how special it is to be first-gen and am further proud of my accomplishments.

Ashley Cunningham, Associate Director of Digital Communications Strategy

Ashley Cunningham
Associate Director of Digital Communications Strategy

Until recently, I didn’t realize that being a first-generation student is something to be proud of, as I spent a lot of time being embarrassed by it, instead of being proud of all I’ve accomplished.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I attended college, but I knew I wanted to make a better life for myself and my family, and college seemed to be the right move. However, once I got to college, being surrounded by people who had it all together, had proper financial and emotional support, and just knew ‘how to do college’ was really intimidating. As far as I remember, there wasn’t any sort of support program for first-gen students at my school, and my tough ‘I can do it all on my own’ attitude was 100% a facade; I could have benefitted from close mentorship.

Which is why I am so glad that, through my former roles as a FY101 instructor & advisor and Benjamin Templeton Scholar mentor, I have been able to connect with first-gen students who, like me, feel very lost when it comes to higher ed. These students need to know that they’re not alone, they can find balance with the chaos of responsibilities, and that they can succeed.

Jenny Siepler Moss, Executive Director of the Levett Career Center

Jenny Moss ’06
Executive Director of the Levett Career Center

Thinking back to my freshman year at Hanover, I was equal parts excited and nervous to be here. I grew up with supportive parents, encouraging me to attend college and pursue my interests and passions, but I had no idea how to approach something that infinite! What I soon discovered was the abundance of resources and people who either I identified or who revealed themselves to be guiding lights or mentors. 

In my role as the Executive Director of the Levett Career Center, I’m able to collaborate with a team to meet students where they are – students like me, who are excited to be at Hanover but not quite sure how to maneuver through college. I’m very fortunate to occupy a role that fuels my passion for student access at a place that gave me the tools to get to where I am today.

Leslie Redus, class of 2024, wears a purple dress and sits outside on a blank

Leslie Redus ’24
Benjamin Templeton Scholar

I think that one of the struggles of being a first generation student is that no one in your family can give you advice on what to do when it comes to picking the right college, what things to bring to college, or what classes to pick. 

I didn’t really have anyone to help me fill out applications or even how to fill one out. I didn’t know if I was doing anything correctly because my family didn’t know either. 

As soon as I came to campus though, there was nothing but overwhelming support from faculty, staff and other students. That support that they gave me allowed me to feel comfortable with myself and at campus, and allowed me to branch out and create roots within the campus community. 

Now, I am an active member of Hanover’s Latino Student Union, Feminist Club and Archery Club. I am also a Student Senator for the class of 2024, and I am an RA for the Crowe/Lynn staff. I couldn’t be who I am today without the support of my family or Hanover College.

Jan Winbigler, Major Gifts Officer

Jan Winbigler
Major Gifts Officer

As a first-generation student myself, I recall putting unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed and make my family proud. The truth is, my college accepted me because they recognized potential. My parents would not have dropped me off that first day and drove away if they thought I was going to fail. Believe in yourself as much as others believe in you! Embrace and soak up every opportunity you can. If you are struggling or simply want to share your experiences with others in any way, seek out a mentor. As part of the Hanover College community/family, I am excited for your future!  

Sara Wines, Assistant Director of Annual Giving and Stewardship

Sara Wines ’15
Director of Prospect Research

As a first-gen student, I didn’t have the same support as many of my peers. However, professors and other staff people mentored me through my 4 years as a student. This place helped me refine creativity, critical thinking, and project management into skillsets I now use every day as an employee.

Now, I work with other first-gen students through my relationships with the Student Philanthropy Committee, as a student org adviser for EOS and the Rugby Club, and with our department’s student workers.

Valerie Young, Associate Professor of Communication, Associate Dean for Faculty Development

Valerie Young, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Dean for Faculty Development

I used to be quite embarrassed that I didn’t understand ‘the system’ when I started college…I can vividly remember as a senior in high school calling up bank loan officers to ask questions about how to get a loan, how much I could qualify for, and how I could cover my tuition, room, and board as a college student. I had a job, or two, or three, all throughout college. My parents were incredibly supportive, in every way they could be, but they couldn’t help me navigate some of the most basic stuff, like financial aid or residential decisions.

Sometimes I uncover that a first-generation student has questions about financial aid, scholarships, grants, graduate school, etc. and these questions are things they think they *should* know already, but they don’t have someone who has gone through it before. I see my role as a first-generation faculty member to give students that little push of encouragement that I also needed – to help them believe that they’re capable and worthy of being here and doing well, and to help them remember where they came from and where they’re headed.