Ouachita students and faculty network at the First-Generation kickoff celebration on Nov. 1. (photo by Meghann Bledsoe)

Ouachita to recognize first generation college students

November 6, 2023

By Sam Bennett, Staff Writer

November 6, 2023

In an effort to honor and empower first-generation college students, Ouachita Baptist University is maximizing the efforts of the new First-Generation College Student Program, which aims to make Ouachita an inviting place for students of all academic backgrounds and to foster first-generation student success in higher education. 

This new student outreach initiative is in line with National First-Generation College Celebration Day, which falls on November 8th, commemorating the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. This brought forth various programs, including the Federal TRIO programs. These initiatives are designed to support and assist students in beginning and completing their post-secondary degrees.

Nicole Porchia, Ouachita’s Associate Vice President for Student Success & Retention and a first-generation college student herself, elaborates on the initiative and its impact. 

 “Our team of faculty, staff and first-generation student leaders aims to raise awareness, celebrate and build community among our first-gen students,” Porchia said. 

The significance of this initiative lies in recognizing the strengths that many first-generation students bring to college, such as resilience, responsibility and commitment. 

“Being first-generation is something to be proud of and is considered a major accomplishment,” Porchia said.

Students at OBU have actively taken the lead in this celebration, including senior Shelley Davis. 

“Being part of a first-generation program connected me with mentors who shared their own experiences as first-generation college students, which was incredibly inspiring. Through this program, I gained the confidence and knowledge needed to pursue my educational goals and create a brighter future for myself,” Davis said.

Sophomore Hannah Hallum explained the challenges of beginning college as a first-gen student and how this program has and will continue to help alleviate them.

“Coming to college as a first-gen student can be extremely daunting without guidance. These students, along with various staff members and professors, have guided me in and out of the classroom in ways only fellow first-generation students may understand,” Hallum said.

The heart of this initiative lies in sharing stories that will foster a sense of community and attempting to reduce feelings of alienation that many first-generation students face when navigating the complexities of college. OBU’s new program aims to make the college experience less stressful for students of all academic backgrounds.

“This initiative is an incredible opportunity for first-gens to write their own story, create their community and thrive here at Ouachita,” Porchia said.

There are many events throughout the month of November that all students can attend. The kickoff celebration was held on Nov. 1.

On November 8th, students, faculty and staff can join Lisa Sells as she shares her own first-gen journey from 12:00 to 12:50 p.m. in Walker Conference Center.  And, on November 29th, “Voices of First-Gen at Ouachita” will be held at 12:10 p.m. in Walker Conference Center. This event offers the chance to hear from a panel of first-generation students, faculty and staff as they share their experiences, offer encouragement and provide advice to college students. 

OBU’s celebration of first-generation college students is a clear testament to the University’s spirit of community, support and empowerment. This initiative serves as a powerful reminder that being a first-generation student is a journey of strength.

The program warmly welcomes anyone interested in supporting first-gen students to get involved, including those who are not first-generation college students themselves. Students, faculty and staff interested in participating can sign up for events throughout November or send an email to asc@obu.edu to learn more. 

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