By Evan Bentley
On Nov. 8, Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) hosted its third Gen 1 conference, marking National First-Generation College Students Day with an event dedicated to supporting and empowering first-generation college students.
“I am a first-generation college graduate, and more than 50% of this year’s freshman class are also the first in their families to attend college,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “We’re proud of our mission to aid first-generation students in navigating college and getting them to the finish line to achieve that college-graduate status.”
Dr. Gill Hunter, assistant vice president of retention and graduation, has been a driving force in first-generation initiatives at EKU.
“Across the country, institutions are marking National First-Gen College Students Celebration Day with various events,” Hunter said. “At EKU, we are proud to contribute to the celebration.”
The Gen 1 conference emerged from a goal of EKU's First Gen Task Force to make EKU the preferred destination in Kentucky for first-generation college students—those whose parents have not earned a four-year bachelor’s degree. In 2019 and 2021, the conference focused on faculty and staff who see themselves as first-generation advocates. This year, it expanded to include a student-facing component, emphasizing EKU's dedication to first-generation student success. Approximately 80 first-generation students participated in this year’s conference, themed “What Counts,” where students engaged in sessions centered around topics like priority-setting, time management, leadership development and overcoming obstacles to success.
Garrett Jenkins, an accounting major from Olive Hill, Kentucky, shared his motivations for attending the conference, saying, “I definitely wanted to find a group of people that had the same experiences as me just to have those support systems, because I didn't have that growing up.”
Jenkins highlighted the impact of a conference session: “Learning from the college experience of others, what they went through—I definitely feel like that's something that I'll be able to take with me.”
Debra Aziza, a public health major at EKU said, “I thought it would be interesting to get to learn and hear about other students and to not feel alone by being a first-generation student.”
Hunter highlighted the importance of public awareness and the university’s broader mission as the School of Opportunity. “We want first-gen students to recognize EKU as a place where they will be supported. We believe in the mission of providing students with an opportunity to try and the support to succeed,” he said.
The Gen 1 conference is part of the university's commitment to foster an inclusive and supportive environment for all students. EKU was recently recognized for its first-generation success, ranking first among Kentucky’s public institutions for Top Performers on Social Mobility by U.S. News and World Report. Institutions ranked for social mobility were evaluated based on factors such as enrolling Pell Grant-eligible students and first-generation graduation rates. Of EKU’s Fall 2023 graduating class, 43% will be the first in their families to attain a higher education degree. EKU offers several resources, events and programs for first-generation students and to ensure student success.