At UW Bothell, nearly half of all first year students are also first generation students. They, along with their families, are allowing faculty and staff to help them shape their future and the future of generations to come. It goes both ways though, as each first generation student lends to the exceptional educational experience by adding a unique voice to discussions, classwork and projects.
At times though, being a first generation student can come with its own set of stresses and barriers. It helps to see there is someone else who has dealt with those stresses and broken through similar barriers.
UW Bothell Education professor Jane VanGalen is a first-generation student whose research focuses on social class and social mobility through Education. She started “First in Our Families,” a digital storytelling experience intended to inspire and support first generation students, “I've been teaching and researching digital storytelling for several years,” she says. “It seemed an excellent match to use this medium for first generation students to tell stories of being first.”
VanGalen says this is an opportunity to hear stories that are rarely told, “There are many things written about first generation college students but, I thought, too few accounts of the experience in the voices of first generation students themselves.”
VanGalen began this project in the fall of 2012 with a group of UW Bothell faculty, staff and librarians who were first in their families. After months of collaboration, the group gathered for a three-day intensive production workshop. As a first generation student, VanGalen says she understands that for some of the storytellers, sharing their personal experience is a major step. She is also surprised that the variety of experiences that came out of the workshops closely reflects the research on first generation students.
Now, current and future first generation students at UW Bothell and beyond will have the benefit of hearing, seeing and virtually connecting with those who went through similar experiences.
VanGalen says, when a first generation student watches “First in Our Families” videos, this is what she wants them to take away, “That first generation students bring real strengths to their experiences. That they do belong. That there are many things that colleges just don’t spell out as well as they might and it’s ok to just ask questions, because students whose parents went to college have had so many of their questions answered before they even apply to college. That there is no one “first generation” experience. And then it’s very worth it in the end.”
With continued support, VanGalen expects to continue the workshops and add more experiences so that conversations on campus about first generation students might be even richer.
“First in Our Families” is a project supported by CUSP, Academic Affairs, Office of Research, CSS, Education, School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, IT, UW Bothell Library, and the General Faculty Organization.
Click the title, “First in Our Families” to see the stories.