Auburn celebrates first-generation students at special event

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Auburn University celebrated its more than 3,000 students who identify as first-generation scholars with a special event in recognition of National First-Generation College Student Day on Nov. 8.

The Office of Inclusion and Diversity’s, or OID, Cross Culture Center for Excellence hosted a celebration at the Student Activity Center that included lunch, professional headshots, giveaways, resource tables from academic colleges and campus organizations and commemorative photos. Annual celebrations like the one at Auburn are held nationwide to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

“OID is honored to celebrate first-gen students here at Auburn,” said Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost for inclusion and diversity at Auburn. “We will continue to demonstrate our commitment to these students by providing support services for student success. Events like this show these first-gen students that they matter and foster a sense of belonging for them here at Auburn.”

John Morris, Auburn’s senior vice president for Advancement and himself a Pell Grant recipient, said he is extremely proud to be a first-generation college graduate and applauds Auburn’s trailblazing students, who are breaking new ground for their families.

“Being a first-generation student is the gateway to generational change and not only will impact four years of those students’ lives, but also their families’ lives and their communities back home,” Morris said. “Auburn’s first-generation students embody the spirit of the Auburn Creed and will forever be a part of this great university’s lasting legacy.”

Legacy is what it’s all about for students like Yuxi Zhao, who is originally from China, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She is currently working on her doctorate in electrical engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Zhao said she could not rely on her parents concerning college matters because they didn’t have the knowledge to provide guidance. Now, she plans to pass her knowledge on to others in her family.

“For my cousins who are younger than me, I can give them some advice,” she said. “I know they are watching me.”

Engineering student Dremere Woods can relate. He said being a first-generation student is bigger than him.

“It means that I will be a trailblazer for my family,” he said. “As an older brother, mentor and role model, I want to set an example that no matter what your background is, you, too, can earn your degree!”

Many Auburn first-gen faculty and staff attended the celebration as well. Organizers say it’s important that students engage with other first-gen students and are made aware of what resources they have available to them.

One of those resources is the T1GER Network, designed to connect first-gen students, faculty, staff and families. Those who sign up receive monthly updates on all things first-gen.

“Every day that I’m a first-gen Tiger, I carry the dreams that I have for myself, my family and everyone else who believed in me along this journey,” said Woods.

For more information on Auburn’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, the monthly “This Month in DEI Calendar” and other notes of recognition, please visit OID’s website, Instagram and DEI landing page or sign up for the OID newsletter.

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.