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Northwest students, faculty and staff gathered Thursday for a celebration of first-generation college students. The event featured a series of speakers who shared their stories of navigating college as first-generation students. (Photo by Carly Hostetter/Northwest Missouri State University).

Northwest students, faculty and staff gathered Thursday for a celebration of first-generation college students. The event featured a series of speakers who shared their stories of navigating college as first-generation students. (Photo by Carly Hostetter/Northwest Missouri State University).

Nov. 9, 2018

Northwest celebrates first-generation students


Northwest Missouri State University’s Academic Success and Retention unit and TRIO, along with collaboration and assistance from various departments on campus, hosted a campus-wide celebration of first-generation students Nov. 8.

“You have everything you need in you and I learned that going through college, getting connected with different people, learning different perspectives, and taking that information and utilizing,” Cassie Tavorn, the director of the Northwest’s TRIO programs, told the crowd gathered for the celebration. “We have a very strong program here because of the people, our administrators, our faculty and our staff, who understand the differences that we have and they value those differences. There’s someone in each and every last one of you that all of us need and when we put that together, it makes us who we are.”

Speakers at the event, which was open to all Northwest students and employees, shared their personal stories about navigating college as first-generation students and the skills they developed to help them achieve their goals of earning a college degree.

“I hope that you can look around the room and see a face that you feel comfortable approaching and lean on us and let us help you because we’ve been there, and we have resources,” Julie Johnson, an academic advisor and coach in Northwest’s Academic Retention Services.

Dr. Carol Spradling, the director of the School of Computer Science and Information Systems, shared her story of growing up in a small, rural community and struggling through high school and her first year of college. She chose to leave college for three years and returned as a different, more prepared student.

“I learned a very strong work ethic from my parents,” Spradling said. “I learned how to problem solve through all of the many failures that I had – my failures were too numerous to explain. I also learned that I was very resilient, and what that meant was that when I ran into difficulties, somehow I learned to accept the fact that I failed and I didn’t beat myself up and I went right back into it and I tried again.”

Similarly, Andy Peterson, Northwest’s director of athletics, grew up on a farm. His parents finished high school and began farming immediately afterward. Although they did not attend college, Peterson’s parents understood the importance of education and pushed him to earn his degree. They encouraged him to seize opportunities, and Peterson did that, earning a spot on Northwest’s men’s basketball team.

“If you’re here in this room and you’re enrolled at Northwest Missouri State right now, if you’re here as a first-generation student, you’ve already made the leap,” Peterson said. “You’ve already been able to get to this point and the opportunity’s still there. You’ve just got to be able to seize it now.”

Brandt Shields, the Kansas City district director for Sen. Roy Blunt, also attended on provided congratulatory remarks on behalf of Blunt, who was a first-generation college student went on to serve as president of his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University, in Bolivar, Missouri.

“You today truly are the torchbearers,” Shields said to the crowd, adding the Blunt has worked to increase funding for programs that support first-generation students such as TRIO and Upward Bound. “We greatly appreciate the opportunity to join you today and are so proud of the work that you all are doing at Northwest. You all set the success standard for the state of Missouri and we look forward to continuing to celebrate all of your accomplishments.”

At Northwest, more than 32 percent of undergraduates are first-generation students; 39 percent of the University’s fall 2018 freshmen are first-generation students.

The University’s celebration coincided with a nationwide initiative sponsored by the Council for Opportunity for Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success to recognize first-generation students. Their second annual First-Generation College Celebration marked the 53rd anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which has helped millions of people become the first members of their families to earn college degrees.


For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468