Friday, Nov. 8, is national First Generation College Student Day, and approximately 150 educators at all levels from Kentucky and several other states will converge on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University to discuss ways to better serve those who are the first in their families to attend college.
The day-long Gen1 Conference, to be held in the Perkins Building, is the first conference focused on first-generation student success ever held in Kentucky, according to Dr. Gill Hunter, executive director of retention and graduation at EKU, and honors the University’s commitment to first-generation student success.
“We are bringing together thought leaders from across the spectrum of educational experience: four-year and two-year colleges, publics and privates, middle schools and high schools, state agencies and private industry partners,” Hunter said. “Leaders from these areas will be presenting and attending sessions, forming valuable networks that will let ideas grow.”
Also in attendance, Hunter noted, will be educators who work for GEAR UP and others who invest fully in the academic success of sixth-grade through postsecondary students. “We hope that eyes will be opened, hearts will be filled and next steps will be guided. We see this as a starting point and are grateful for the chance to learn from and interact with others who are invested in the success of these students, including our three keynote speakers.”
One keynote speaker will actually speak the preceding evening, Thursday, Nov. 7, as part of the University’s year-long Chautauqua lecture series. Michael Sorrell, who as president transformed struggling Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, into one of the most innovative colleges in America and was honored by Fortune on its 2018 list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders, will address “Building Resilient Universities for Resilient People” at 7:30 p.m. in O’Donnell Hall of the Whitlock Building. A meet-and-greet dinner in the Case Kitchen will begin at 6 p.m. (sign in at kiosk). Although registration is closed for the Friday conference, the Thursday evening lecture is free and open to the public.
The other keynote speakers will be Dr. Aaron Thompson, a Clay County native, EKU graduate and former professor/administrator who now serves as president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and Silas House, Laurel County native, Eastern graduate and acclaimed author.
The conference agenda features 35 breakout sessions focused on readiness, classroom management and support topics of interest to middle school, high school and postsecondary teachers, staff and administrators. To see a complete list, visit firstgen.eku.edu.
Hunter said the conference resulted from a “true partnership” between several campus offices, including NOVA, Retention and Graduation, Upward Bound, Academic Readiness, Student Success, EKU Libraries, Center for Student Parents and the College of Education, among others.
“The idea began when the director of our NOVA program proclaimed her goal of making EKU the first-generation student college in Kentucky,” Hunter said. “We’ve planned for more than a year to make this happen and have brought many different partners from across the University on board. This conference is a great example of it taking a village to see a project through. I’ve made new friends in helping lead this effort and have seen colleagues find their voice and chart new paths for themselves. And that’s exactly what we want for the students we serve.
“We’re eager to share the news about what EKU does with and for first-generation students,” Hunter continued. “We’re glad that others share our desire to shape the outcomes of these students. We see this as a starting place, where the breadth of a conference experience can lead to the depth of continued conversations and implementation of policies that support students and change families and communities.”