First Generation Students Preview Life at ATU

First Gen Institute 2019
File photo from the 2019 Arkansas Tech University First Generation Institute.

More than 50 high school students representing 34 Arkansas communities participated in the inaugural Arkansas Tech University First Generation Institute on Thursday, June 13, and Friday, June 14.

Participants interacted with current ATU students, discovered the academic opportunities available at Arkansas Tech, experienced life as a college student, learned how to finance their education, toured the ATU campus and gained insight on becoming involved in campus life.

“It’s honestly been the best experience I’ve ever had on a college campus,” said Douglas Davis, an ATU First Generation Institute participant who will be a senior at Ozark High School during the 2019-20 academic year. “Normally when we come to a college campus, we just get a run down on where stuff is. Here, they take you through the dining spaces and the buildings. They teach you how to view your schedule online, how to make your schedule and how to make connections with people. I’m just so glad to have had this experience. Arkansas Tech is No. 1 on my list. It’s a tight-knit community, and you get the big-college campus experience while being able to feel like a family.”

ATU First Generation Institute participants came from Batesville, Beebe, Benton, Bentonville, Centerton, Conway, De Queen, Dermott, El Dorado, Eudora, Fort Smith, Havana, Hot Springs, Huntington, Little Rock, Lockesburg, Locust Grove, Lowell, Marion, Monticello, Mount Ida, Nashville, North Little Rock, Ogden, Ozark, Pine Bluff, Rison, Rogers, Russellville, Searcy, Siloam Springs, Star City, Texarkana and Van Buren.

State Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville was the closing speaker for the institute on Friday afternoon. She shared her personal story of persistence that allowed her to graduate from ATU, earn a position on the Russellville School Board at age 26 and be elected to the Arkansas State Senate at age 35.

“We can’t guarantee outcomes for ourselves,” said Davis. “I may get beat in whatever it is…but what I do know, in everything I approach, is that no one will out-work me. When people are discouraging you or saying harsh things to you, they don’t know what you are capable of. People who are doing great things…people who know how to work through adversity, work hard and not give up…they have been pulled back and pulled down in life. They’ve had hard things they’ve had to live through. It shows us our own resilience.

“Not many people can see the lesson or the good through the hard times,” continued Davis. “If you are one of those people that can see that on the other side of it you will be different and better, then you are one of the lucky few.”

Nineteen ATU students, each of whom also identify as first generation college students, served as facilitators for the high school students during their two-day visit to Arkansas Tech.

The ATU student facilitators for the institute were Shelby Fitts of Conway, Austin Gilmore of Little Rock, Katie Griffith of White Hall, Alida Gutierrez of Dardanelle, Rosa Gutierrez of Dardanelle, Carter Howard of Harrison, Kyle Howley of Mansfield, Makayla King of Conway, Colton Little of Gentry, Jahaziel Martinez of Russellville, Mayenssi Montiel of Dardanelle, Evan Mosier of Batesville, Jenna Reid of Queen City, Texas, Anna Russell of Fort Smith, Abi Sasore of Dunleer, Ireland, Tyler Schmidt of Mansfield, Wendy Sierra of Russellville, Shane Smith of Fort Smith and Lexi Wright of Clarksville.

“I hope that your path leads you back to become a student at Arkansas Tech,” Dr. Mary B. Gunter, chief of staff at ATU, told the high school students assembled for the institute. “I’ve been a part of Tech for 21 years now…and why I have stayed at Tech is because of students like you. You bring the same passion that I had when I was that first generation student. We care about you. What I have found, and what I have witnessed, is that we give you great opportunities to be successful.”

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