Southern Connecticut State University has been selected as one of 76 new members of the prestigious First Scholars Network for the academic year 2023-24. This honor, bestowed by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and The Suder Foundation, distinguishes Southern for its support of first-generation students and its commitment to advancing degree completion.
The university participated in the virtual kick-off event on Friday, June 2, marking the official start of the first phase of network engagement. This phase includes connecting with peer institutions for professional development activities, goal setting, communication and reporting development, and more.
Upon successfully completing the Network Member phase, institutions progress to the second phase, known as First-gen Forward. This achievement opens the doors to becoming a First Scholars Institution and, ultimately, achieving the coveted status of a First Scholars Champion Campus.
At Southern, undergraduate students are classified as first-generation if neither parent has completed a four-year college or university degree.
“We are honored to join the First Scholars Network,” said Tracy Tyree, vice president of student affairs. “We know that investing in these students’ educational success will increase their likelihood of completing a degree at Southern and improve their career outcomes. I can’t wait to see where this journey will lead.”
Interim President Dr. Dwayne Smith, himself a first-generation student raised in poverty with a family history rooted in Mississippi sharecropping, shares this sentiment. Smith is enthusiastic about building on the transformative potential of higher education in students’ lives.
Due to discriminatory laws in the South, Smith’s family, particularly his mother, did not have the opportunity to pursue an education. “Everyone has the right to a post-secondary education with the right mindset and the right type of support,” Smith emphasized.
With the additional support provided by the Network, Southern intends to expand its support resources, with a primary focus on improving institutional data collection and reporting. This plan includes implementing first-generation-focused assessments, promoting wider dissemination of data, and enhancing accessibility to the campus community. Southern will also refine communication channels to identify the needs and potential barriers faced by first-generation students and take strategic steps towards education and awareness.
Southern’s student body currently comprises nearly 2,500 undergraduate first-generation students and about 570 first-generation graduate students.
“The Center is pleased to welcome Southern into the First Scholars Network,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that Southern is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is also prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”
“Being named as a Network Member of the First Scholars Network is an exciting opportunity for Southern to join a dedicated community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country,” said Dr. Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA. “We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the Class of 2023 Network Members and know Southern will be a significant contributor.”