First Gen Students Learn About Opportunities at ATU

ATU First Generation Institute June 2022
High school students from communities across Arkansas participated in the 2022 Arkansas Tech University First Generation Institute in Russellville.

Oswaldo Lira still has one year of high school remaining, but he’s already made a personal commitment to continue his education on a higher level.

“I want to do it as a thank you to my parents,” said Lira. “They’ve worked so hard. I’ve seen countless nights when my dad has worked late. I want to do well to make them proud and be the first generation of my family to graduate from college.”

Lira will be a senior at Fort Smith Southside High School in 2022-23. He was among 25 high school students who attended the Arkansas Tech University First Generation Institute June 7-9 on the ATU campus in Russellville.

The program, which is in its fourth year, provides high school students who are seeking to become the first member of their family to attend college with a preview of what it is like to be an Arkansas Tech student.

“I’ve always wanted to expand and see something new,” said Lira. “Arkansas Tech has always seemed to capture my interest. There is just something about it…I feel like I would belong, and that’s comforting. I feel like I will find people here that I relate to.”

Lira is interested in pursuing a program of study in the technology field. He said meeting new people and learning what it is like to be a college student were his top reasons for attending the ATU First Generation Institute.

Goals of the ATU First Generation Institute include providing participants with the opportunity to interact with current ATU students, discover academic opportunities, gain a better understanding of life as a college student, learn about ways to finance their education and discover ways to get involved outside the classroom.

Deidra Dillard, first generation student experience coordinator at ATU, provided leadership for the 2022 ATU First Generation Institute.

“I was able to witness growth and changes in many of the participants first-hand, and I do not take that opportunity for granted,” said Dillard. “New friendships and support systems were formed, and plans to keep in contact were already being made before the institute came to an end.”

Dillard reported that the opportunity to participate in a mock class with Jana Crouch, associate director for enrollment in the ATU Office of Admissions, and the chance to attend Tech Talks featuring current ATU students Andrew Purifoy, Archie Stovall and Taylor Wilkerson were among the program highlights cited by ATU First Generation Institute participants.

“I look forward to taking the feedback that has been received and putting it towards next year’s institute to make it even better,” said Dillard.

Learn more about the ATU First Generation Institute at

Students who completed the 2022 ATU First Generation Institute are listed below:

BRINKLEY — Laura Coleman, Hannah Daniel, Jadah Devine, Piper Guthrey, Madison Williams;

COTTON PLANT — Tiffani Bailey;

FORT SMITH — Oswaldo Lira, Rodney Thomas;

HARTMAN — Melissa Stokes;


LITTLE ROCK — Trinity Conner, Tymiya Conner, Khloe Rycraw;

LOWELL — Justin Williams;

MAGAZINE — Haylee Francis;

MARKED TREE — Tarunee Jones;

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Yuliana Gomez, Germahne Williams;

PINE BLUFF — Taylinn Lee;

PRESCOTT — Jeffery Newton;

QUITMAN — Katlyn Tipton;

ROGERS — Jacob Sanchez;

RUSSELLVILLE — Madison Siwiec;

SHERWOOD — Sierra Rouse;

SILOAM SPRINGS — Colin Salinas.

First-Gen Institute Day One