Wooster Campus celebrates first-generation students

Nov. 14, 2018

The CFAES Wooster Campus celebrated the success of the hundreds of first-generation students and graduates who are part of the campus's student body, faculty, and staff on Nov. 8. On this day, the 53rd anniversary of the Higher Education Act, institutions around the country were invited to celebrate the presence and experiences of first-generation college students. Fully half of Ohio State ATI's student body is first-generation, and a campus survey revealed a number of first-generation graduates, including tenured full professors, high-ranking campus administrators, and staff members in numerous academic and support areas.

The celebration featured a panel discussion of first-generation experiences. Panelists, all of whom were first-generation, included Cathann Kress, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Jonathon Van Gray, assistant professor at ATI; Mick Steiner, housing director; and Mickie Martin, a current ATI student majoring in biochemical sciences. The panel was moderated by ATI student Nicole Middaugh, also a first-generation student.

As students and graduates shared their experiences, common themes emerged -- suffering from "imposter syndrome," parents who wanted to be supportive but didn't know what questions to ask, and the determination to keep at it despite minor setbacks. 

Others shared their stories in a booklet entitled, "I've Never Been More Proud: Stories of First-Generation Success." Rhonda Billman, assistant director of the Wooster Campus, recalled, "During my first week of classes I got sick with tonsillitis and had my purse stolen with all my cash, checkbook and identification. I almost packed my bags and headed home." But “strong will and determination” saw her all the way through to a master’s degree. 

Enrolling and supporting first-generation students is a big priority for ATI, said Director Kristina Boone. "We can change not only individual lives, but entire communities."

The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration in 2017.