First Generation Day gives students chance to ask questions, meet other first gen students


Harry Stine/NW

SNACK BREAK – Students at First Gen Day fill up on lemonade and eat pizza while making conversation with other first-generation students. First Gen Student Day took place on Tuesday, Nov. 8 and aimed to give first generation students a place to ask questions and form bonds.

Harry Stine

Students and faculty alike celebrated First Generation Student Day on Tuesday with a panel discussion featuring past and current first-generation students, a photo op and a chance to eat pizza and mingle with other attendees.

“Today’s been a really great day,” said Donald Mowery II, criminal justice major and first gen student. “Overall, it was fun getting a picture at the Wildcat statue and then coming up here for pizza. Really excited to be here and just getting to meet a bunch of different other first gen students.”

Linda Sirois, Assistant Dean of Students and Coordinator of First Gen Programs, said that first generation students actually make up about one third of Northern’s population every year, usually shifting between 31% and 36% as the semesters go by.

The panel took a turn to discuss grad school and the pressures of writing your thesis, and Linda mentioned that one student raised a hand and simply asked “what’s a thesis?”

“Really, that’s the essence of being a first gen student is you don’t know the terms,” Sirois said. “You don’t understand some of the culture, and you’re nervous about asking, because you don’t want people to know that you don’t know.”

Lee Xiong, Director of the McNair Scholars program, said that as a first-generation student at a large research school, not knowing things was intimidating. 

“I didn’t know that there was a place where you get free water and ice,” Xiong said. “I just thought that you paid for everything.”

She added that one of the biggest challenges came from back home, where family and friends cannot always relate to your successes as a student. She went on to say that events like First Gen Day help first generation students feel a little less lonely, allow them to open up about their struggles and maybe even give each other some support.

“Find a mentor,” Xiong said. “Find someone who can coach you through the process, someone who you can ask questions to.”

Northern’s Director of Partnerships and Events Jeff Korpi reflected on his time as a first-generation student as well. He called his time here “a rewarding challenge” and said most of the things he had to face had to do with simply not knowing the scale of influence college has on your life and figuring out the right questions to ask.

“I think it’s a pretty cool group to be celebrated,” Korpi said. “It’s a group that often goes overlooked at other places, but I think Northern has a way of making folks who are first generation feel welcomed and to have a sense of belonging here and like they can participate and have just as much equal opportunity as folks who aren’t first generation.”

Sirois added that for students who missed today’s events, the First Gen Programs have been hosting pop up coffee lounges in Jamrich 1318 for first gen students to come by, sip coffee and ask a staff member any questions they may have.