Office of the President

November 8, 2017

Celebrating our first-generation college students

Ana Mari Cauce

wearable first generation student button

We invite any first-generations faculty or staff who would like to celebrate in style to pick up an “I Am First-Generation” button from OMA&D in Mary Gates Hall, Suite 320, while supplies last

Every student who arrives at college for the first time is faced with challenges. They encounter a new community of people and new academic expectations. For many, it’s their first foray into independence, with all the risks and responsibilities that are part of that adventure. For first-generation college students, like recent graduate Christopher Johnston, there are added complexities. As a student and father, he had to navigate a world that his family couldn’t prepare him for while trying to balance his son’s needs as he earned his degree in law and policy.

What Christopher and other first generation students encounter is sometimes called the “invisible curriculum,” the set of unwritten rules and best practices that college graduates pass down to their college-bound children. Whether going on college tours, navigating the application process, picking a major or a faculty advisor, having someone in your corner who knows the ropes is reassuring.

At the University of Washington, we are committed to doing all that we can to equip first-generation students with the tools and resources to help them navigate college. Today we join universities nationwide during the inaugural National First-Generation College Celebration, organized by the Council for Opportunity in Education, to honor and support these students.

Nearly 35 percent of undergraduates enrolled across our three UW campuses are first-generation students. At UW Bothell, just over 40 percent of students are the first in their family to pursue a 4-year degree. And at UW Tacoma, first-generation college students are actually a slight majority at just over 50 percent. UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano is himself a first-generation college graduate and described what it was like to try to balance supporting his family’s financial well-being with completing his degree.

To our first-generation students, we know many of you still face that difficult balancing act, and that you often find yourself navigating a college environment without the benefit of guidance from older family members who made the same journey. We know that financial barriers can loom especially tall, and we will do all that we can, through the Husky Promise and other programs, to ensure that financial need doesn’t stand in your way. Today – and every day – we are so glad you decided to join our community. Your professors, student life and academic advisors and your classmates are here to support you as you achieve your dreams.