First-generation Journeys: Confronting, Challenging, & Crossing Academic Borderlands

with T. Mark Montoya

October 10, 2018 at 3:00 PM ET

About This Course

Many academics are still not versed in the relevant experiences of first-generation students, even if they were themselves first-generation. The reason for this is that countless first-generation academics may not see their experiences as anything other than normal. College is supposed to be difficult and confusing. Right!? While college is indeed complicated, first-generation students often start in a predicament different from students whose parents went to and graduated from college (continuing-generation); without the benefit of handed-down advice on resources, timelines, unwritten rules, and the like. In addition, the demographics of the United States are changing. Accordingly, the demographics of U.S. colleges and universities are changing.

In the past several years, more universities have admitted more students-of-color and more students from low-income situations, contributing to an already greater number of first-generation students. As such, this Center for First-generation College Student Success live briefing will draw attention to the academic border-crossing experiences of first-generation students and the many intersections that inform numerous first-generation journeys. While the focus is on the challenges and opportunities that first-generation students face navigating academia, the Center live briefing will also explicitly highlight the approaches taken at Northern Arizona University (NAU) through our faculty and staff professional development learning community, as we discuss what we can do to guide those journeys. First-generation students are essentially starting their journey on an unequal and increasingly crowded field where the lack of social and cultural capital adds extra barriers. Attach to this race, racism, and further intersections of class, gender, sexualities, and abilities; and a college degree may seem an unreachable destination.

Beyond the classroom and beyond the underutilized federal programs, first-generation students often need one-on-one mentoring and advising - guidance in navigating the university, particularly from people who share similar experiences. For seven years now, an innovative professional development learning community of faculty and staff at NAU has been grappling with first-generation college student experiences. Sometimes we are a book club and other times we are hands-on trainers and facilitators; certifying colleagues as first-generation allies, advocates, and activists; creating and implementing an online class for faculty and staff; and establishing and hosting a national symposium for guiding first-generation student success. From our various discussions, we have concluded: “best practices for first-generation students are best practices for all students.”

How first-generation students succeed once they get to the university is of utmost importance. This is especially true from a moral standpoint - if institutions raise students’ hopes by admitting them, then they should also provide accessible tools to support students’ success on campus. As we know, first-generation students are far less likely to graduate than their continuing-generation peers are. Thus, low retention rates mean lost revenues; not financially, but instead, morally.

Learning Outcomes

By attending this session, participants will:

  • understand approaches to implement and/or continue first-generation advocacy and engagement on college campuses,
  • examine first-generation advocacy and engagement amid hierarchies of power in academia, and
  • investigate the social and political realities of first-generation experiences through a borderlands perspective.


Register before the event begins, and get $10 off the registration cost! After the live session ends and the recording is available, the registration will be $99 for NASPA members, $149 for non-members. Pricing will be accurately reflected in your cart.

Accessing the Presentation

Once you complete your registration, you will be able to access the course by clicking on the "Login" button at the top of this page (or any page on

  • You will be asked to login with your NASPA user name and password. Once you have done so, you will hit continue and be redirected to your dashboard in the Online Learning Community.

  • You will find the session listed under "Enrolled."

  • Live session access information will be listed before the session has aired.

  • All sessions are recorded. Once the session is over, the recording will be available approximately one week after the air date. You may view the materials as many times as you'd like, at whatever pace you would like.

  • If you have any difficulty accessing the materials, please contact Jace Kirschner (

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