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Celebrating National First-Generation College Student Day

November 8, 2017

On Nov. 8, 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education is asking universities around the country to participate in the very first annual First-Generation College Student Celebration.

The date marks the 52nd anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965 which increased funding for universities, scholarships and student loans.

The federal TRIO program has been active for years in assisting first-generation students at the University of Montana Western. “First-generation” refers to students whose parents haven’t obtained a four-year college degree, and the TRIO program provides them with a support system to help them navigate the landscape of higher education.

Kloey Strande

First-generation student Kloey Strande from Anaconda, Mont. said, “I’ve been a part of TRIO since the 7th grade. It’s nice to have that extra resource, and I love being a mentor, being able to help students with the questions I once had.”

Mentorship is a large part of the TRIO program. Sophomores like Strande are particularly suited to help incoming first-generation students adjust.

Courtney George

English Secondary Education major Courtney George mentors seven freshmen as a part of TRIO.

George grew up in Bigfork, Mont., and came to Montana Western for the highly-acclaimed education program. She feels that the University of Montana Western is a great place for first-generation students because “the professors know your name.”

Destiny Wallace

Similarly, sophomore Destiny Wallace said “All the faculty and staff I’ve talked to are willing to help which is something you might not get at a bigger campus.”

Wallace found out about the university at a college fair that came to her high school in Kalispell, Mont. She met with an English major from the university and fell in love with the block system, a single course at a time hands-on learning model called Experience One. She is now studying in the same field.

Katlyn Skauge

Elementary Education major Katlyn Skauge said the block system makes it easier on first-generation students.

“I love it. Since I’m only in class three hours a day, I have time to volunteer,” said Skauge.

Skauge does her volunteer work in a Special Education classroom at the local middle school. A teacher from her hometown of Shepherd, Mont. inspired Skauge to attend Montana Western. She found TRIO especially helpful when it came to filling out lengthy applications for financial aid.

According to, “89% of low-income first-generation students will not earn a bachelor’s degree six years out from high school, and they drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a post-secondary education.”

This is why the work being done by TRIO and these student mentors is so important. Together, these students and support staff form a foundation to help keep first-generation students progressing towards their educational and life goals. Despite the statistics, the future looks bright for Courtney, Katlyn, Kloey, and Destiny and the many other students that the TRIO program assists, making the University of Montana Western the ideal place for first-generation students like them to flourish.

All first-generation students, faculty and staff are invited to stop by the TRIO office in Main Hall 215 to pick up a first-generation badge. If you see someone wearing one of these badges, please congratulate them for their hard work and accomplishments.

For more information, please contact Director of Student Success and TRIO SSS, Ilene Cohen, by email at [email protected], or call 406-683-7311.