Originating at UCI, First Generation Faculty Initiative Spreads System Wide to All UC Campuses

More than half of UCI’s current student body are first-generation students, and in Fall of 2014, UCI professor Anita Casavantes Bradford sparked an idea to start a faculty-led initiative to celebrate the courage and ambition of first-gen students and to support them in successfully overcoming economic, social and cultural challenges to their pursuit of a higher education.

Casavantes Bradford, UCI associate professor of Chicano/Latino Studies and History, developed the idea for a campus wide program that would bring much needed awareness and support to the struggles and successes of first-gen students. Holding the first faculty workshop in social sciences during spring 2015, initial guidance and support was from Dean Bill Maurer, Associate Dean Mark Petracca of the School of Social Sciences and Dean Ken Janda of the School of Physical Sciences.  

The program – called the UCI First Generation Faculty Initiative – also received funding and support from UCI Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) in Fall of 2015. Since then, Michael Dennin, Dean of DUE and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, has supported the program’s expansion to a campus wide audience.

“Professor Casavantes Bradford along with a team of faculty and staff have been working for the past two years to grow the First Generation Faculty Initiative into a positive force for student success at UCI,” says Kevin Huie, Director, Student Success Initiatives, DUE and co-director of the new first-gen program. “Together we have developed and implemented a range of innovative first gen friendly events and resources, including faculty training and networking workshops and lectures, faculty-student mixers, and social media outreach.”

In Fall 2016, in a collaboration with the Office of the President, UCI launched a social media campaign, which used the hashtags #FirstGenUCI and #UCIFirstGen. With exponential exposure during the 2016/2017 academic year, the First Generation Faculty Initiative caught the eye of first-gen faculty at other UC campuses across the state. As a result, all nine UC undergraduate campuses have signed on to launch a systemwide “First Gen Faculty” social media campaign during fall 2017.

“On the heels of the recent ‘California STEM Includes Conference,’ hosted by UCI, it is exciting to see the First Generation Faculty Initiative gain traction across all UC campuses,” says UCI Alumnus Eloy Ortiz Oakley, UC Regent and current Chancellor of the CA Community College system. “To date, more than eight hundred faculty who were first in the family to graduate from college have volunteered to participate, and we look forward to this number growing.”

Janet Napolitano, President of University of California system, has reinforced the importance of these first gen outreach and support activities to the University of California’s mission, stating that the “UC aims to connect first-generation students with the tools necessary for academic success, to foster a sense of belonging and ownership among this critical student population, and to ensure that UC continues to serve as an engine of economic mobility for our diverse population of undergraduates.”

In addition to participating in the system wide social media campaign, Casavantes Bradford and Huie are hard at work on plans for a unique-to-UCI celebration of the First-Gen Student experience during Week One of the upcoming academic year. “#ImFirst” Day, on Wednesday October 4th, 2017, will be a fun and far-reaching public celebration of the campus’ first generation majority identity. #ImFirst t-shirts and buttons will be distributed to participating faculty, staff and students. Faculty and staff who are first gen will gather in central campus spaces to publicly share moments from their own first gen success stories. Students will also be encouraged to share their experiences as the first one in their family to go to college.

Under the leadership of Michael Dennin, Dean of Undergraduate Education and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, the festivities will also generate buzz for the new Student Success Initiatives Center, which provides resources and support to first generation, low income, transfer and former foster youth students–and which will hold an open house reception and mixer on the same day.  

“I’m looking forward to working with UCI first generation faculty and staff to kick the year off with a positive and empowering first gen focus,” says Casavantes Bradford. “If all goes well, perhaps this event can become an annual campus tradition.”

Faculty and staff who are interested in participating in the First Generation Faculty initiative are encouraged get involved in campus efforts to support our rapidly growing first gen student body. For more information, please email Anita Casavantes Bradford at acasavan@uci.edu or Kevin Huie at khuie@uci.edu.