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First Gen Celebration at the Rock

Boosting Retention Efforts Aimed at First-Gen Students

About 23 percent of our students are first generation. These students come to UT with high school GPAs and ACT scores on par with their peers, but we retain them at a rate about 8 percent lower than other students. The need to reach out to these students is obvious.

“This is a gap we can close,” said Associate Vice Provost for Student Success Karen Sullivan-Vance, who is leading the effort.

As part of our First Generation initiative we recently held forums for first-generation faculty, staff, and supporters to talk about how they can be part of this effort. Our winter academic advising conference, on January 25, focused on the strengths and challenges faced by first-generation students.

We want to celebrate these students as trailblazers, and we want to establish a campus support network between first-generation students and first-generation faculty and staff.

Other first-generation efforts are in the works:

  • On November 8, 2018, we participated in a national celebration of first-generation students, and we plan to make this an annual event with a variety of elements.
  • We will be offering special orientation sessions geared to the families of first-generation students. Pilot sessions last year were very well received.
  • We will be launching a website soon to share stories and videos celebrating our first-generation students, faculty, and staff. The site will include a directory of first-gen faculty and staff and resources for faculty.
  • We are in the planning stages of expanding our UT LEAD program to boost outreach to first-generation students.
  • We are looking at the possibility of hosting summer get-togethers—similar to the New Vol Roll Call—that bring together current, incoming, and prospective first-generation students and their families.
  • This spring we will conduct focus groups to learn more about the experiences of our first-generation students, which will help us in identifying barriers to success.
  • We are creating positive marketing with the first-generation logo on lapel pins and posters. We want faculty and staff to highlight their own status as first-generation grads. Please contact Karen (ksvance@utk.edu) for a poster or lapel pin.