- Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director
Around 25 percent of all students who attend the University of Kentucky are first-generation students.
This means that their parents or guardians did not complete a four-year college or university degree.
Noor Eqal, a sophomore Human Health Sciences major, knows the exact definition of the term — because she is a first-generation college student. She started out on the pre-pharmacy track, but now says she wants to be pre-med.
“Over the years I’ve seen how kind and willing people are to help me feel more comfortable,” Eqal said. “Because I’m not an extroverted person. I’m typically shy and like, you know, don't want to bother people. But there are lots of people here to help me.”
At the University, and especially in the College of Health Sciences, not only do we welcome these trailblazers with open arms, but we also provide them with the resources needed for them to thrive. In doing so, UK proudly celebrates National First-Generation Week, hosted by the Office for Student Success.
Created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success, National First-Gen Week brings hundreds of higher education institutions, corporations, nonprofits and K-12 schools together to raise awareness of the first-generation college student identity and to recognize the achievements of the first-generation community.
“First-generation students offer valuable and unique perspectives that are necessary to engage in richer intellectual discourse at the university,” said Robert Hayes, executive director of Student Community Resources and Services. “First-generation students are integral to the education process for all students, and we wish to honor and bring recognition to this through First-Gen Week. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the support networks that have been provided by the communities that helped our students transition to college, as well as persisting to a degree.”
This week, UK is hosting several events — open to the entire campus community — that highlight and acknowledge the varied skillsets and strengths that first-generation students bring to campuses across the nation.
Wednesday events will include the First-Gen Open House with First-Generation Student Services, a “celebrate your firsts” event and an induction ceremony with the Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society. The festivities will conclude on Thursday with First-Gen Celebration Bingo.
“In CHS, our faculty and staff have a special appreciation for the first-generation student experience because many of us are first-generation college graduates ourselves,” said Casey Shadix, PhD and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs in CHS. “We are always on alert for whether or not a student is new to a college process and take extra time to explain with step-by-step guidance to ensure a clear and smooth experience; we even make ourselves accessible to have regular check-in meetings and appointments to be absolutely sure needs and expectations aren’t just met, but exceeded.”
Here's 5 questions with … first-gen student Noor Eqal:
I’m from Lexington, so I guess the University of Kentucky was always one of my top options. And being a first-gen student, I felt like staying in Lexington would be a better choice, especially at least to start off, because of having that support system.
I have a lot of family in Lexington, so there’s a big support system here.
I am the first in my immediate family, but I’ve had cousins that have gone to college. I have one that graduated from UK, so that helped a little bit. But, since they’re older than me, some of the information was a little off, so I was getting kind of a little bit of false information, like scholarship-wise.
I got an idea, I guess, of what to do if I didn’t know how to schedule classes. They were able to show me. And then, like just meeting with my advisor, I felt comfortable just emailing them. And my advisor was really good about reaching out and answering their emails.
I remember during my orientation I hadn’t scheduled my classes. I had planned them, but I hadn't registered. So I was emailing my advisors and I wasn't in any of the science classes. I needed to be in the chemistry or biology. So we met over Zoom and we figured it all out. I feel like just being able to be comfortable and take initiative helped me to know where my resources were.
I really didn’t know like what to expect as a mentee as a freshman, but I absorbed a lot of information about pre-professional schools and different tracks, and financial aid, scholarships and clubs. It was also a great way to meet new people, because I could see familiar faces and wouldn't feel as alone if that makes sense.
And then, being a mentor, I really enjoyed that cause I was able to give freshmen information. Especially as a first-generation, I know how clueless it can be just coming into college, not really knowing anything. So I just wanted to help and meet new people.
I do think if I wasn't part of the PATHfinders program, this would have been a totally different story.
I think that’s probably been the biggest help for me, and it’s aided me in feeling like I’m welcome and comfortable at UK.
Specifically, in Health Sciences, I’d say to reach out to your mentors. Use the learning centers. And don't be afraid to go to your teachers — use their office hours or email them.
I feel like it’s gotten easier. The workload is different. It’s different content.
And I feel like I can help now because I know exactly what students go through during their freshman year.
To learn more about how the university supports first-generation students year-round, visit the First-Generation Student Services website here. For more information on the events taking place, visit BBNvolved. To follow along as the university celebrates National First-Generation Week, use the hashtag #UKYFirstGen.