W&L Celebrates National First-Generation Student Day The Office of Inclusion and Engagement organized and hosted events to mark the occasion in collaboration with the Office of Alumni and Career Services and the Harte Center for Teaching and Learning.
This year’s National First-Generation Student Day celebration at Washington and Lee University was filled with activities for the entire campus. National First-Generation Student Day is observed Nov. 8 and celebrates the presence and experiences of people who are the first in their family to attend college. Washington and Lee’s Class of 1994 Office of Inclusion and Engagement (OIE) organized and hosted events to mark the occasion in collaboration with the Office of Alumni and Career Services and the Harte Center for Teaching and Learning.
The first event of the day was a casual celebration hosted by OIE in the Elrod Commons Living Room. The morning gathering was open to the public and refreshments were provided. Students, faculty and staff mingled, shared stories and had the opportunity to meet Student Affairs staff, as well as first-generation faculty and staff members from across campus.
The second event, titled “‘I Wish Somebody Had Told Me…’: Helping First-Gen Students Navigate Washington and Lee,” was a collaboration between OIE and the Harte Center for Teaching and Learning. This session was held over lunch in the Harte Center’s Leyburn Library location and featured a panel of current first-generation students describing their experiences adjusting to the culture of W&L. The panel was followed by an information session detailing the university’s resources available to support students in the transition into college life. Attendees also discussed steps that could be taken on an individual and institutional level to help students navigate college.
The final event was a first-generation alumni panel held in Leyburn Library’s Northen Auditorium. Co-sponsored by OIE and the Office of Alumni and Career Services, the program featured some of W&L’s first-generation alumni sharing their experiences about adjusting to college and the W&L culture, navigating campus resources and their life after graduation. Panel participants included Murtaza Kapasi ’16, Brittany Norwood ’16, Randy Karlson ’16 and Paul Youngman ’87.
Karlson was excited to return to campus to participate in program and support students. He credits W&L’s football program with providing him with a built-in support system upon arriving to college, but admits he still needed to reach out and build connections as a first-generation student.
“I didn’t even know the term ‘first-gen’ when I got here, and I started to realize that while I wasn’t necessarily behind my peers, I did have some gaps in knowledge that I had to figure out,” Karlson said. “I was lucky to have folks like Dean Futrell, Dean Evans and others who really helped me through the transition to life as a college student. Their engagement is actually one of the reasons I wanted to work in higher education – because I had such an amazing experience.”
Karlson recently completed a master’s degree in higher education administration at Stony Brook University Graduate School and now works as a relationship director at Hanover Research, a market research firm that specializes in higher education research and analytics.
The programs for W&L’s National First-Generation Student Day were coordinated by OIE’s new assistant director of inclusion and engagement, Heidi Bustos. Bustos works closely with the low-income, first-generation team (LIFT), which is led by and comprised of W&L students dedicated to creating a supportive community for first-generation and low-income students on campus. LIFT coordinates events, student discussions and gatherings that are open to the whole campus community.
“Our office is always working on creating programming that targets first-gen students,” Bustos said, “Through our partnership with LIFT, we want to ensure all of our faculty and staff have more awareness of how to support our first-gen students.”