First Scholars Network Selects ATU for Inaugural Cohort

ATU students walk across campus on a sunny day

Arkansas Tech University is one of 31 institutions of higher learning from around the United States that will participate in the inaugural cohort of the First Scholars Network.

An initiative of the Center for First-generation Student Success and the Suder Foundation, the First Scholars Network supports institutional goals to scale programmatic initiatives to empower first generation students throughout the student lifecycle and beyond.

According to the sponsoring organizations, ATU was selected for the program “after demonstrating a commitment to advancing the outcomes of first generation students through improving both first generation student success initiatives and institution-wide approaches.”

Arkansas Tech hosted a First Generation Institute for high school students during 2019 and 2020 and was an active participant in the national First Generation College Celebration 2019.

In addition, ATU hosted a series of Wednesday Workshop events during spring 2020 to provide college success skills to first generation students and was one of 77 higher education institutions nationwide — and one of just two four-year universities in Arkansas — to earn a place in the 2020-21 First-gen Forward Cohort.

ATU was subsequently elevated to First-gen Forward advisory institution status and will provide leadership for fellow First-gen Forward institutions in the south central United States.

“Student access and student success are core principles at Arkansas Tech University,” said Dr. Keegan Nichols, ATU vice president for student affairs. “Defining and implementing programming that is intentional in facilitating first generation student matriculation aligns with those principles. We look forward to collaborating with our fellow First Scholars Network institutions and sharing information about techniques proven to increase retention and graduation rates among first generation students.”

Nichols and Dr. Brett Bruner, ATU dean of student engagement, are published scholars in the field of first generation student success.

Their paper, “The Perceived Role of Parents and Family Members of First-Generation College Students On Transition,” was published in the community literature for the 2019 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Conference.

In January 2019, more than 400 participants registered to participate in a Bruner-led American College Personnel Association’s Commission on Admissions, Orientation and First Year Experience webinar about supporting first-generation students.

The First Scholars Network aligns clearly defined, measurable goals with institutional data to identify gaps, track progress and create systems allowing leadership to make informed choices resulting in improved student outcomes, strengthened enrollment management, collaborative programming and preservation of resources.

“The landscape of first generation student initiatives is continually shifting alongside the ever-changing needs of our communities, nation and global society,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “As part of the First Scholars Network, Arkansas Tech University will become a key partner in driving systemic change and looking to the future of first generation student success.”

First Scholars Network institutions will partner with the Center for First-generation Student Success for a two-year experience that will provide:

● Expert guidance and tailored resources converging to support institution-wide systemic transformation and provide on-time, first generation thought-leader expertise;

● An integrated framework that combines evidence-based and targeted solutions to propel institution-wide systemic transformation and confidently scale holistic student support across the academic career of first generation students;

● Robust inventory, assessment and reporting structures focused on first generation student support and institutional cultural shifts;

● Scalable initiatives and programmatic toolkits customizable to the institution that address the immediate needs of administrators and practitioners; and,

● Structured, cross-collaborative learning with institutional partners from across the higher education landscape.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is an initiative of NASPA, a national organization for student affairs administrators in higher education.

“First Scholars provides a unique balance of bringing first generation student initiative scaling into focus while drilling down into how Arkansas Tech University recalibrates institutional systems to elevate potential and advance outcomes for first generation students,” said Dr. Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA. “This approach positions ATU to be a leader in first generation student success.”

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