“A little sense of direction.” Inaugural first generation student conference to be held Nov. 7


Fallen leaves collect under a row of trees outside of William T. Young Library on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Sarah Michels

Many UK undergraduate students are navigating their college experience partially in the dark. It might not be immediately noticeable, but over a quarter of the students walking around campus, studying in Willy T. and attending classes in Whitehall are first-generation students, according to UK spokesperson Jay Blanton.

First-generation students are those students whose parents and grandparents did not complete a bachelor’s degree. While the 2020-21 numbers haven’t been finalized yet, in the 2019-20 school year, 34.8% of undergraduate students at UK met this classification, as well as 26.4% of all students. This is the highest number and percentage of UK first-generation students since at least the 2009-10 school year.  

First-Generation Student AdvisingUK Student Support Services and Office of Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice are hosting the inaugural First Generation Student Conference this year to offer guidance to these students, especially amid the added complications that COVID presents. 

The one-day conference will be held Nov. 7 from. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Zoom. In addition to offering networking opportunities, mentorship and motivation, the event will be a celebration of first-generation students, recognizing them as trailblazers, said Martina Martin, associate director of student transitions and family programs.

The deadline for free registration is Nov. 5. 

Martin said that people often negatively stereotype first-generation students as being less smart or capable than continuing generation students. One of the conference’s goals is to address the inaccuracy of that stigma. 

“In reality, those students are very highly intelligent,” Martin said. “They are highly capable, they’re resilient, they have grit, they have that determination. Unfortunately, they just need a little sense of direction.”

That sense of direction is increasingly important now, with the pandemic hindering students’ abilities to form connections with their peers and professors. 

“Those relationships help us understand where to go and help us feel comfortable with being able to ask questions” Martin added. “During COVID is it’s much more difficult, I believe, just to feel like a part of something and really embrace campus life.” 

The First Generation Student Conference will have several focus areas, including career and professional development, social justice, graduate school and mentorship. Martin said they wanted to show students how they can be advocates for themselves and their community, as well as how to find mentors who can provide them a sense of direction they may not get from their families. 

“(First-generation students) are very creative and can make things happen,” Martin said. “Except they don’t take the traditional route, because they don’t know what the traditional route is, nor do they have the family members that can actually say, here’s what to do.”

The conference, originally scheduled for April, was partially planned by second-year first generation students as part of an EXP class. Martin said that since so much of the focus is typically on first-generation students’ freshman years, they wanted to offer sophomores a leadership opportunity. These members of the 1G Living Learning Community provided student perspective, helped find presenters and promoted the event. 

The presenters include:

  • Keynote speaker Carol Taylor-Shim, diversity director for the Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice office
  • Brandon Colbert, social justice educator for the Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice officer, presenting on social justice
  • Jimmie Jones Jr., assistant director of residential life, speaking about graduate school preparation
  • Martina Martin, giving a presentation covering imposter syndrome. 

Martin said her goal is to reach 100 attendees for the inaugural event. However, if just 10 participate, she will still consider the conference a success. 

“(If) those 10 students take away and come out of this conference feeling more prideful and proud of being First Gen, and knowing how to leverage and use their first Gen-ness as they navigate their college experience,” she said. “I would be absolutely thrilled.”

Register for the conference here