On November 8th, confetti rained down over Mantor Green as First-Gen Celebration Day began. Sponsored by UMF’s Johnson Scholars program, the celebration consisted of commemorative flag-making in Olson Student Center, trivia in the Landing, and concluded in Roberts where students stood on stage and shared their experiences of being the first in their family to attend college. Faculty members and former first-generation college students John Messier and Nick Koban both spoke at the event.
“It was liberating, a celebration of things why often try to hide. It was great, being proud of our identity,” said Claudia Intama.
“Sometimes first-gen students don’t feel like they belong. They arrive on campus faced with barriers that other students don’t have. The celebration reminds them that they belong,” said Lynn Ploof-Davis, director of TRIO programs at UMF.
Ploof-Davis also manages Johnson Scholars, which serves 180 UMF students who are the first in their family to attend college. Her department provides advising, support, cultural opportunities, graduate school trips, and other programs to help those students thrive throughout their four years; students also attend an annual conference to share their experiences with other Johnson Scholars students from across New England.
The program has a dedicated study lounge in Franklin Hall, where older Johnson Scholars students work as peer-advisors for other students in the program. Student employees also played a key role in setting up the event, where they also manned several booths in Olson where students could make DIY pins expressing that–at least from what this reporter saw–they are #firstgenproud.
“I work with both high school and college students,” said Ploof-Davis. “[I prepare high school students to go to college after graduation and college students to be prepared [when they graduate.]” Ploof-Davis’s favorite aspect of her job is helping one group enter and the other leave–both at the same time.
The annual First-Gen Celebration commemorates the authorization of the Higher Education Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The bill funded programs to increase the financial aid given to students pursuing higher education as part of the administration’s War on Poverty, while also creating Federal TRIO programs to recruit and retain students from low-income families.
UMF has two TRIO programs: Johnson Scholars and Upward Bound. Ploof-Davis oversees both. Her work with Upward Bound takes her to 18 target high schools, where she engages students in the college application process while reinforcing good study habits and life skills that will help them on their way.