Montana Western Celebrates First-Generation Student Day

To celebrate the sixth annual National First-Generation College Student Day, the University of Montana Western is recognizing its first-generation students, faculty, and staff. November 8th marks the 57th anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which increased funding for universities, scholarships and student loans.

“First-generation” refers to students whose parents have not obtained a four-year college degree. The Montana Western TRIO program provides them with a support system to help them navigate the landscape of higher education.

The day recognizes first-generation college students; to celebrate the accomplishments they have made and the barriers they have broken. Montana Western and the TRIO Student Support Services staff continue to work hard to make a college degree attainable for everyone. We’d like to invite you to meet some of our inspiring first-generation students, faculty, and staff.

UMW student, Kaley Paulsen.

Kaley Paulsen

Kaley Paulsen is a junior at Montana Western from Idaho Falls, Idaho. She’s majoring in Business Administration with a minor in Managerial Accounting. Paulsen is proud to be a first-generation student and hopes her journey can set an example for others.

“To me, being a first-generation student means that I get to set an example for my family, both current and future, and that it is possible to get a great education no matter your beginning circumstances,” said Paulsen.

Paulsen says that the TRIO program at Montana Western has been a tremendous tool for her throughout her college career. She credits the TRIO advisors for helping her understand how to register for classes, apply for student loans, and for setting an example of how to be a successful college student.

“From my very first days on campus, the TRIO program has guided me through the college experience. Even now, as a junior, TRIO helps me every day. The advisors make sure that I have everything that I need and that I am on track for graduation. They also check in with me about how my classes are going, if I need any help with anything, and are even there for me if I just need to talk,” said Paulsen.

UMW student, Layne Cooney.

Layne Cooney 

Layne Cooney is a first-year student from Potomac, Montana who graduated from Hellgate High School in 2022. Cooney is majoring in Physical and Health Education K-12 and is a member of the UMW football team.

“My entire life I’ve always been told college was an option, but it wasn’t the only option I had. I went back and forth between wanting to attend college, but I wasn’t totally set on the idea until my senior year of high school,” said Cooney. “I received an offer to play football at UMW and that is when I made the decision to pursue a college education.”

Cooney said that without the scholarship opportunities from playing football he wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend college and that he is grateful to have this opportunity.

“Being able to continue my academic career into college is a big step. Only a few of my family members have attended college so I feel extremely lucky,” he said.

Library Tech I, Kayla Schmeisser
UMW staff member, Kayla Schmeisser.

Kayla Schmeisser

Kayla Schmeisser was born in Dillon and graduated from Montana Western with a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in Fine Arts. She became Program Coordinator for UMW’s Lucy Carson Library in 2021. 

Being a first-generation student has provided numerous enriching opportunities for Schmeisser, from traveling abroad studying art to working with students at the library. Earning a degree has played an integral role in her life and she is grateful to be in a position that provides support to current students.

When asked what advice she has for other first-generation students, Schmeisser said, “Use your resources! Talk with guidance counselors, admissions representatives, financial aid, and anyone else who offers support. Be sure to apply for all the scholarships that you can and as early as possible.”

UMW Faculty member, Breanne Smith.
UMW Adjunct Instructor, Breanne Smith.

Breanne Smith

Breanne Smith is a first-generation student who received a Master of Science degree in Experimental Psychology from Montana State University and has worked as an Adjunct Instructor at Montana Western since 2015. In search of a deeper understanding of life and consciousness, she spent many years studying Cognitive Psychology. In the future, her goal is to research Alzheimer’s disease and amnesic memory loss.

“Education provides a unique opportunity for each and every one of us. I recommend that college students use these years to find their creativity and hone their expertise,” said Smith.

For more information about the TRIO program at Montana Western, please contact TRIO Advisor and Mentor Coordinator, Dr. Michael Bartch: [email protected] or 406-683-7315.

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