First Generation College Student Recognition | WMU Alumni Skip to main content

First Generation College Student Recognition

Western Michigan University is proud to welcome and support First-Generation University Students who seek to change the narrative by pursuing a higher education.

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 WMU alum who was a first-generation university student, interested in sharing your experience? Visit this page to share your story.


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.


A CALL FOR ART: What does being a first-generation student mean 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. Check back for more updates!

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.


Make a Gift