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The University of Montana Western Celebrates First-Generation Student Day

November 8, 2021

On Nov. 8, 2021, the Council for Opportunity in Education asked universities around the country to celebrate the fifth annual First-Generation College Student Celebration.

The date marks the 56th 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 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.

Montana Western Interim Provost and English Professor, Dr. Ashley Carlson, was the first member of her family to attend college. She received a BA in English from Chapman University in California as well as an MA and Ph.D. in English from the University of New Mexico.

Carlson says that the relationships that she built with her professors in college were immensely valuable and helped shape her career path going forward, something students at Montana Western can also benefit from.

“With our small classes and experiential focus, students at Montana Western have a similar opportunity to work closely with faculty and build close mentoring relationships, and I think those relationships are extra important for first-generation students,” said Carlson.

Rafaela Acevedo-Field is a UMW TRIO advisor and also a first-generation college student. Acevedo-Field grew up in Mexico City and came to the United States as a teenager. She received a BA in History and Spanish from the University of California, Davis, a Master’s in Latin American and Iberian Studies from California Santa Barbara (UCSB), as well as a Ph.D. in History from UCSB.

While working in TRIO, Acevedo-Field has seen first-hand how the many resources UMW offers can make a difference for first-generation college students and she encourages them to take advantage.

“Make full use of the richness of resources you have as a university student and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Resources like tutoring, the library, the gym, and counseling services are all included in your tuition and designed to help students succeed, and they are generally under-used,” said Acevedo-Field.

Jenny Stoker is a UMW sophomore from Pinesdale, Montana, majoring in Elementary Education with a minor in psychology. When deciding on what college to attend, Stoker was intrigued by UMW’s block scheduling model as well as the university’s exceptional teacher education program.

As a first-generation student, Stoker admits that transitioning to college was initially stressful without having someone to draw experience from. However, she says that UMW’s TRIO program has really helped her bridge this gap.

“We are surrounded by numerous resources both on and off-campus that can provide help in a variety of different ways. TRIO is one of these resources. For me, TRIO has been the program that has taken all of my struggles and helped me grow and thrive through them,” said Stoker.

UMW student Rachel Marchant is a sophomore psychology major from Stevensville, Montana. While in high school, Marchant struggled with the decision if college would be the right path for her. Without having an immediate family member to offer guidance about college, Marchant didn’t know what to look for in a university.

She decided to attend Montana Western for the small school atmosphere and the hope that she could build a personal relationship with the faculty and staff to help guide her. This is exactly what Marchant said she received when she came to UMW and joined the TRIO program.

“Being a first-generation student, I wasn’t sure how everything on a college campus worked when I first got to Dillon, but thanks to the TRIO program I have been extremely successful during my first year of college. TRIO helped me get in touch with different offices across campus, as well as walked me through the class registration process and filing my FAFSA. TRIO also helped me gain some amazing friends and helped me establish a support group for myself while I am away from my family,” Marchant said.

TRIO will be holding a first-generation tabling event in the campus library on Tuesday, November 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is an opportunity to meet some first-generation students, collect a free first-generation sticker, and enter for a chance to win a $100 scholarship (for enrolled first-generation students only).

The Center for First-Generation Student Success encourages all first-generation students to share their stories on social media using the hashtag #celebratefirstgen to spark a national conversation and celebrate first-generation students across the country.

For more information about the University of Montana Western’s TRIO Student Support Services office and provided services, please visit their website, or call 406-683-7322.