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The University of Montana Western Celebrates First-Generation Student Day

November 9, 2020

On Nov. 8, 2020, the Council for Opportunity in Education asked universities around the country to celebrate the fourth annual First-Generation College Student Celebration.

The date marks the 55th 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.

Louise Driver, the Director of Financial Aid at Montana Western, was the first member of her family to attend college. Growing up in Gurdon, Arkansas, Driver attended Henderson State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Even though her parents never attended college, Driver says that they always encouraged her and her siblings to further their education. Driver’s mother would eventually go back to college and earn a B.S. in Nursing.

“Go to college no matter what your age and never give up on your dream. It may take some of us longer to complete our degree as we put college on the back burner to focus on our family or any other reason in our life’s path. Also, it does not matter how long it takes you to get your degree, keep moving toward it, and it will happen,” Driver said.

Assistant Professor of History, Dr. Jessica Fowler, was also a first-generation college student. Fowler attended Appalachian State University, where she double majored in History as well as Philosophy and Religion. Fowler went on to earn her M.A. in History from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Davis.

Fowler has always had a passion for learning and reading, and upon entering college, she realized that she wanted to help other students find that passion as well.

“My advice for any first-generation student is to know that there will be challenges, but if you are truly passionate about what you are pursuing, everything will be worth it in the end,” Fowler said.

John Gamble is a Montana Western sophomore from Carlin, Nevada, studying Physical Education for K-12. As a first-generation student, Gamble admits to having limited experience when first entering college.

“Coming into college, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had to rely on the experiences of friends and high school teachers and gain knowledge by myself along the way,” Gamble said.

When Gamble did arrive at Montana Western, he explained that the TRIO student support program allowed him to get comfortable with college life and set him up for success.

“The TRIO program has helped me manage the stress of all aspects of college. They have given me a leg up in practically every obstacle college can throw at you. Everything from signing up for classes, getting help with classwork and helping me navigate the complexities of financial aid. I believe TRIO is the main reason I have been able to keep up with every changing moment,” Gamble said.

Gamble hopes that his decision to pursue higher education will continue a trend for his younger sisters and future generations in his family.

UMW student Tabitha Blockeel is a senior majoring in Elementary Education from Fairfield, Mont. After hearing about Montana Western’s exceptional teacher education program and Experience One, she decided to attend the university. Blockeel is the first member of her family to attend college, which she says was an advantage when trying to decide about her future after high school.

“Personally, I think being a first-generation student made the decision of going to college easier. My family supported my choice to go, but they also didn’t pressure me into something I was unsure about,” Blockeel said.

Blockeel did say that when she decided to come to UMW, it was difficult to lean on advice from her family and that TRIO helped her bridge this gap when she came to campus.

“The TRIO program has helped me as a first-generation college student, and my college career overall, by being able to give me the advice I need as well as giving me the confidence to know I’m not alone when I need help,” Blockeel said.

TRIO will be holding a First-Generation tabling event in the campus library on November 10 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 TRIO Student Support Services office and provided services, please visit their website.