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University of Mississippi

Annual First-Generation College Student Celebration Begins Nov. 7

First-gen alumni to return to campus for panel, parties and more

Racheal Embry, a senior psychology major from Olive Branch, is president of the First-Generation Student Network. Submitted photo

Racheal Embry, a senior psychology major from Olive Branch, is president of the First-Generation Student Network. Submitted photo


The University of Mississippi kicks off national First-Generation College Student Week on Nov. 7 with a panel discussion between alumni and students, a celebration on the Union Plaza and opportunities for students to learn about ways the university can help support them.

“We embrace First Gen Week as a fantastic opportunity to recognize and celebrate our first-generation students, whose dedication and determination exemplify the best qualities of the University of Mississippi,” said Chancellor Glenn Boyce, who was a first-generation college student when he attended Ole Miss.

“First-generation students bring unique perspectives and experiences that enhance our learning environment, and the celebration of this week is another example of the university’s commitment to providing guidance, resources and support for our first-generation student community.”

First-Generation College Student Week events include:

  • Nov. 7 – Alumni panel, 5:30 p.m., Bryant Hall, Room 207
  • Nov. 8 – First-Generation College Student celebration, 4 p.m., Union Plaza
  • Nov. 9 – Considering Graduate Studies? Join Us on the Porch, 9-11 a.m., Graduate House porch
  • Nov. 9 – First-Generation Graduate Student Networking Event, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Bryant Hall entryway

The week provides an opportunity for the university to celebrate students who are the first in their families to earn a college education, said Ashleen Williams, instructional assistant professor in the Office of the Provost and faculty adviser to the First-Generation Student Network.

The week is also an opportunity for students to learn about the resources and support structures available to them.

“The reason it’s called a network is because it’s a network of resources,” Williams said. “You have a group of people who you can ask your questions to and, if they don’t know, they can help you find the answers.

“My hope is that they gain a sense of confidence both in the institution and their place in the university.”

Supporting these students is one way the university fulfills its role as the state’s flagship institution, said Annette Kluck, dean of the Graduate School and professor of leadership and counselor education.

“We’re a state-funded university – we want to advance education in the state of Mississippi, and a part of that is making sure our first-generation students feel welcomed and valued,” Kluck said. “One way we do that is elevating First-Generation College Student Week.

“They bring a unique perspective to the university and to the campus, and many of these students are from our state and will go out into our state and make important contributions.”

The purpose of the student-run First-Generation Student Network is to provide a space of welcome and support on campus for students, said Racheal Embry, a senior psychology major from Olive Branch who serves as the group’s president.

“I really think it’s such a supportive community,” Embry said. “From finding information about how to be a college student to how to live in a college town, the community and having that support is what made me.

“It’s also just a personal connection to a lot of people. If something is happening, I can go and talk to them.”

Ajah Singleton, a 2022 graduate from Edwards who majored in management with an emphasis in health care, said she is excited to return to campus to speak with students. Singleton is one of four recent alumni returning to campus for the panel.

“I want to communicate that it’s OK to not know what you’re doing, especially as a young professional,” Singleton said. “A lot of times, we see so many people doing such great things, and it’s OK if you feel like you’re a little bit behind. Everything is a process.

“It’s OK to be where you are right now.”

Singleton, who is a claims specialist for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, said Williams first told her about the network when she was a freshman. Singleton remained a member of the group all four years of her time at Ole Miss and said she found solidarity and support among her peers.

“A lot of us didn’t have connections when we first got there, but it was nice to get that database or resource,” Singleton said. “In order for us to have more first-gen students, not just here but across the state and the nation, it’s important for the university to do what it can to keep these students here, to support them.

“We need to spread that support and spread that experience.”