UAFS Celebrates First Gen Students

Chancellor Riley speaks to a room at a 2019 celebrationToday, Nov. 9, 2020, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith joins hundreds of universities across the nation to celebrate first-generation college students in celebration of National First-Generation College Student Celebration Day. On the UAFS campus, nearly half of all students will be the first in their families to earn a college degree.


Though the official holiday is celebrated Nov. 8 of each year, UAFS slated its celebration event for Monday to allow more students to participate in the virtual celebration. In conjunction with the university’s #First2Go campaign, which celebrates and lauds the hundreds of faculty, staff, and students on campus who were the first in their families to achieve the goal of college education, UAFS will host an afternoon of online festivities honoring first-gen students. 


UAFS chancellor, Dr. Terisa Riley, who is a first-generation student herself, will welcome guests to the event at 3 p.m. Monday at


“I love to tell my story about getting through college and getting where I am today as the first female chancellor of this great institution,” Riley said. “there are a lot of firsts in your life, and being a first-generation college student is something to be proud of.” 


Riley explained her path to higher education included ambition and eventual success, and immense struggles as the first in her family to attend college. Her family hadn’t saved for college; she pressured her parents to disclose their financial information for her FAFSA to get some financial assistance. She began working three jobs to pay for her education while taking a 15+ hour course load. When she was on the verge of dropping out due to financial stress, she found the opportunity to serve as a resident assistant in the housing office at her undergraduate institution. “That job changed my life,” Riley explained. “That’s when I learned that I could study and work in higher education. I completed my degree because I had people who believed in me, encouraged me, and opened doors to new opportunities I never would have had … and I am here to take down barriers for you.”


Riley’s best advice to first-generation college students, she said, is to ask for help. “When things get difficult, and you don’t know where to turn, or when you don’t know what to ask or believe, there are no answers – there are always answers, and there are always people who would do almost anything to help you.”


In addition to Riley’s story, guests will hear from UAFS faculty and staff who are now giving back with their first-gen experiences in mind, and current first-generation college students who explain what motivates and inspires them to persist. First-gen students will also have the opportunity to share their own story, and send a Thank You note to someone who has been impactful in their educational experiences. A virtual door prize drawing and information about campus resources will also be hosted on the First Generation Celebration website. 


Funds supporting the university’s First Gen Celebration were provided by a $500 2020 First-Generation College Celebration Grant from the Council for Opportunity in Education  and the Center for First-Generation Student Success

More resources for first-generation college students on the UAFS campus are available from Student Support Services (SSS) a federally funded program to serve students. This fall, UAFS launched the STEM-SSS program to aid students in STEM and Health Science majors, as well. SSS is available via email at


UAFS students can also sign up for the #First2Go Mentoring Program by emailing This program pairs faculty and staff who were the first in their families to go to college with current first-gen students to provide mentorship, encouragement, and advice.



Date Posted: 
Monday, November 9, 2020
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