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Celebrating WMU's First-Generation Students

Western Michigan University has a long tradition of welcoming and supporting first-generation university students.

Our alumni are an important part of the story, too. They are living inspiration for current students who are among the first in their families to work toward obtaining a degree.

Join us in November as we celebrate the first-generation student experience at WMU. Please check back in at this page to learn more about how we plan to lift up the voices of current and past first-generation students.

Are you a current first-generation student at WMU, or  a first-generation WMU alumni, interested in sharing your experience? Share your story.

Get your WMU First-Generation sticker! Just stop by the front desk at Heritage Hall between now and Nov. 8. 

WMU's First-Generation Celebration Events

Friday, Oct. 28

Art and Storytelling submissions due to WMU Alumni Association

All Day

Stickers and buttons are available for pickup at the front desk of Heritage Hall 


Wednesday, Nov. 2 

4 p.m. WMU Haworth First Generation Celebration (details below) 

Please join us as we celebrate WMU Haworth’s first-generation community on Wednesday, November 2, 4 - 5 p.m. in the Dean's Conference Room (2150 Schneider Hall). We will hear from our very own faculty, staff and students about their own journeys, sharing their successes and challenges. There will be representatives from many of the college departments available to share how WMU Haworth supports first-generation students as well. Refreshments will be served. All are welcome, RSVPs are required. 


Friday, Nov. 4 

10 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Exhibition at Heritage Hall (Join us in the Goes Cafe)

10 a.m. Art exhibition opens at Heritage Hall (open to the public) 

5 p.m. Storytellers read & perform their works

6:00 p.m. Judges announce winners 


Monday, Nov. 7 

8:30 to 10:30 a.m.Pancake Breakfast Celebration

Join us in the TRIO workroom (Ellsworth Hall 1225) for some pancakes to celebrate first-generation week! 

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Art exhibition at Heritage Hall (open to the public) 


Tuesday, Nov. 8 (National First-Generation College Day!)

8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CEHD

Will table in Sangren for First-Gen Pop. W/  DIY First-Gen Pins, First-Gen Photobooth, donuts, and gift-card giveaway, and other table goodies (Open to public) 

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Art exhibition at Heritage Hall (open to the public) 

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lobby of Merze Tate College (Ellsworth Hall) 

First Generation Button making station

1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Bernhard Center Game Room

Students will have the opportunity to mix and mingle with other 1st genners, while playing games like pool, Ping-Pong, foosball, and Nintendo Switch etc. Students will also be provided light refreshments (popsicles, chips, etc)

What does it mean to be a first-generation student?

Children of individuals who do not have a four-year degree or higher from a college or university are considered first-generation students. This can also include students whose parents obtained degrees outside of the U.S. First-generation students are an important part of the student population at WMU and at colleges and universities across the U.S. Aside from changing the educational history within their families, students who identify as first-generation contribute to healthy graduation rates and a better prepared workforce.

Students who are among the first in their families to obtain a higher education may also have a different experience, as they may not have a good understanding of collegiate jargon, traditions, or general knowledge that students with parents or guardians with degrees may have. This is part of the reason why it's important for colleges and universities to provide resources and support to help fill these gaps, so first-generation students have everything they need to pursue, thrive, and prosper in college.

Are You a First-Generation Student? Show us what it means to you.

First-generation students, this is for you! We are hosting an exhibition showcasing expressions of what being first-generation means to our student community.

We invite you to share your artwork expressions as a first-generation student in an exhibition taking place between   Nov. 4 to 8 in Heritage Hall. This art can be 2D, 3D or alternative media, should have been completed during your time in college, and something you’re proud of. Submit up to three quality images of your work to the form above.

*Images must be less than 10 mb.

This work does not have to be “gallery ready” but should be in good condition. No smudges, tears, etc.

With your submission, please include the title of work, dimensions, medium, year created. Also include an artist statement/personal story that centers your experience in college as a first-generation student.

  • What does being a first-generation student mean to you?
  • What does your first-generation experience mean for your family?
  • Has your love of art evolved in the time you’ve spent here?
  • What does your art mean to you and your college experience?
  • Does this piece of art you have submitted relate to your experience?


*Submissions are due by Nov. 2.*

  • Cash prizes will be awarded for the top three artworks as judges by a panel of first-generation alumni.
  • Reception and award ceremony Nov. 4. Invite your friends and family!
  • Once your work is accepted you will receive an email detailing drop off arrangements with WMU Alumni Association staff.

handwritten notes describing why students are proud to be First-Generation


First-Generation Student Resources:

TRIO Student Success Program
The Center for First-Generation Student Success

First-Generation College Student Scholarship

Mary Lu Light is a native of Southwest Michigan. When she was a young girl her family hosted foreign students who were studying at Kalamazoo College and needed housing when the dorms were closed. So, she became aware, at an early age, of the value of knowing and interacting with other cultures and the value of education.

As a high school student, Mary Lu was able to study in Mexico and continued to learn about cultures and languages other than her own. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Universidad de Las Americas in Puebla, Mexico in 1971, and after earning a Master’s degree from Indiana University in Applied Linguistics, Mary Lu returned to Kalamazoo to work in Western Michigan University’s newly founded Center for English and Language and Culture (CELCIS) in 1975.

During her tenure at CELCIS, she taught academic communication skills to students from many different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In addition to her work at WMU, Mary Lu was involved with the Hispanic American Council of Kalamazoo where she coordinated English as a Second Language classes for Spanish-speaking adults from 2006-12. Since her retirement in 2012, she continues to work with non-native English speakers in Kalamazoo including recent refugee immigrants. Mary Lu’s life work has made her aware of the value of the interaction of people from different cultures and educational backgrounds. 

Recently, Mary Lu established an endowment to provide scholarships for first generation, immigrant, or refugee students. With this scholarship, she seeks to provide funds for WMU students who have experienced the value of knowing cultures and languages other than that of their ancestry, and who are the first in their families to attend college.


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