Celebrating First-Generation Students


St. Ambrose University joins thousands of universities across the country today celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of first-generation students.

During the day of events, first-generation students will be wearing "Bee-First!" shirts, and they will be joined by 89-plus faculty, staff and university administrators who were also the first in their families to attend college.

"I believe when our first-generation students see other students, professors, and staff like them, it will go a long way in encouraging them and showing them it is do-able," said Fritz Dieudonne', Intercultural Life and Leadership coordinator. 

First-Generation Day commemorates the signing of the Higher Education Act in 1965, which has helped millions of students become the first in their families to earn college degrees. The day is meant to bring awareness and celebrate the strength and persistence of first-generation students.

"First-generation students bring great attributes to campus; they are gritty, problem solvers, and highly ambitious. Let's elevate what they bring to campus," he said. 

SAU's Office of Intercultural Life and Student Activities will spearhead the celebration with activities in the Beehive and an all-campus social from 4:30-6 p.m. First-generation students can stop by between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and pick up a free "Bee-First!" t-shirt, pin or cup, while supplies last. While there, they can see and read about 38 first-generation Ambrosians who currently attend, work, and lead the university. Their stories will be displayed throughout the Beehive.

Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, the president of St. Ambrose University, also was a first-generation student.

Sister Joan's parents did not have the resources for college tuition but made education a top priority for their family. "They impressed on us, from the time we went to school that if we worked hard, got good grades and learned good study habits, we would have opportunities for scholarships," she said.

And they did. Each of the three children earned a bachelor's degree. At Sister Joan's commencement, her father walked up to her and said: "'I wish my mother and father had lived to see this day. This was our hope,'" she recalled.

SAU has a long history of educating, and supporting, first-generation students, whom this academic year make up 23 percent of the first-year class. In the past five years, that percentage has not dropped below 20 percent.

"The fact we continue to find ways to help first-generation students, whether through scholarships or other opportunities, continues a long tradition for SAU, one we think is valuable," Sister Joan said.

"Every time we bring another generation of folks into higher education, we open doors for them that otherwise, they would never have the opportunity to open," she added.

sister joan with two students

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