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President Kayse Shrum with a student on the first day of classes, Fall 2021.

OSU receives First-Gen Forward designation

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Editorial Coordinator | 405-744-5540 | news@okstate.edu

The Center for First-generation Student Success has named Oklahoma State University a First-Gen Forward institution for its commitment to first-generation students. 

Missy Wikle, OSU assistant vice president of transition and retention, said the designation reflects OSU’s deep commitment to ensuring each student receives the support needed to thrive. She credits the OSU Office of First Year Success, academic colleges, the Division of Institutional Diversity and others for advancing initiatives to support first-generation students. 

“This recognition by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) validates the impact of our programming for first-generation students,” she said. “We now have the opportunity to collaborate with other institutions which share this designation to discuss programming initiatives and research that will better serve our first-generation population.”

The center — an initiative of NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation — recently announced the 2022-23 First-Gen Forward cohort, which will receive access to professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources. 

Selected institutions will send representatives to the First-Gen Forward Workshop slated for early June and will participate in monthly calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the advisory leadership designation. 

“The center is pleased to welcome Oklahoma State University into the 2022-23 First-Gen Forward cohort,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, Center for First-generation Student Success assistant vice president. “Through the application process, it was evident that OSU is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”

OSU zoology sophomore Lilee Brinlee has lived the first-generation student experience. She said someone’s initial college experience is bound to produce some level of anxiety, but first-generation students may take longer to acclimate to the college environment. She said OSU is thoughtful and deliberate in its support, and that makes all the difference. 

“You’re not just a number here, you’re a person,” she said. “There are so many people here to support you, to help you find success, and they want you to be here.

“Our Office of First Year Success really focuses on first-gen students, because we can have a more challenging time getting into the college world. Between OSU’s campus connection coaches and our financial planning coaches, there is so much support for students like me.” 

Brinlee said her mentor and the staff at the Office of First Year Success helped her establish a strong foundation at OSU. Now, she’s on the other side, working with the Office of First Year Success on first-gen programming to help students like herself build confidence as they begin their higher education journey. 

“I love being able to share what I’ve learned from my mentors here,” she said. “Now I can take that information, add to it and really help new and first-gen students find great success at OSU. 

“OSU gave me the support that I needed. It’s very important that freshmen have a good experience, because your first year can dictate a lot. Our staff in the Office of First Year Success and everyone at OSU is so welcoming. We really love our students and want to provide them with an environment that’s going to make their college career as successful as it can be.” 

Wikle said initiatives emerging from the Office of First Year Success, such as its reinvigorated first-generation student mentorship program — First2Go — and the first-generation family webinar, have been instrumental in the effort to welcome first-gen students, as have programs through the Division of Institutional Diversity, such as Student Support Services (SSS), TRIO and RISE. 

“We want first-generation students to see themselves as the trailblazers they are,” Wikle said. “They are strong, resilient and determined. They want to forge a new path for their families. And we want to do whatever we can to support that.”

To learn more about first-generation efforts at OSU, visit okla.st/firstyear. To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit firstgen.naspa.org

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