Representing first-gen

The rollercoaster experience for Ferris first-gen students

Graphic by: Charlie Zitta | Production Manager

These students are doing something their parents didn’t do, couldn’t do, or weren’t able to finish doing: they’re going to college and getting their degrees.

The name for these kinds of students is first-generation college students. This is because the students’ parents didn’t go to a college or university for higher education or they weren’t able to get a degree. So, these students are the first generation in the family to accomplish that.

Automotive engineering technology sophomore Logan Bury is one of the many first-gen students at Ferris.

Bury’s parents couldn’t afford to attend college because they didn’t have the time or money. Between raising two kids and having jobs to support them, it wasn’t really an option for them.

Around the time Bury was about to graduate from high school his parents told him that he’d either have to go to college or join the military.

So he chose both.

Not only is Bury a full-time college student, he is also involved with the United States Army. Bury decided to go to Ferris and pursue a degree in automotive engineering technology because “it is very difficult to find a good paying job that someone can comfortably live off of without some form of higher education.”

And he likes cars. A lot.

Hospitality and event management junior Emma Franklin is another Ferris first-gen student who wanted to give herself more opportunities.

“Ultimately, I decided to pursue a higher education because I wanted to pursue a wider variety of jobs,” Franklin said. “I wanted to be able to open more doors for myself professionally and to not settle for a life that I didn’t dream of.”

Franklin’s parents grew up in a small rural town and they got married right after high school. Her father followed his dreams of becoming a well driller and other trades work, while her mother wanted to become a wonderful caretaker when Franklin and her brothers were born. Franklin added that “neither of them felt like college was their calling” and they chose other directions in life.

Her parents were constantly encouraging Franklin and her brothers to attend college when they were old enough, though it would always be their children’s final decisions. They told Franklin to work hard and follow her dreams, which may require a degree from higher education.

“Although they were always loving and kind, they had high expectations for us in high school and pushed us to do our best to find scholarships, grants, unique opportunities and more,” Franklin said. “Ultimately, they supported us in all of our decisions, but made sure that we knew how college would benefit us in the long run.”

Life for a first-generation student is by no means easy. In fact, it tends to supply many more obstacles while trying to get that degree.

Typically, first-gen students come from low-income families. So affording college expenses for one or more students in a low-income household is a difficult task. According to the First Generation Foundation, nationally, 89% of low-income first-gen students don’t make it to graduation. More than 25% of these students leave after their first years in college. These are odds that Bury, Franklin and Ferris State University are determined to beat.

Additionally, in 2019 Ferris was one of 80 institutions in the United States and one of only two in Michigan to be awarded for being a First-Gen Forward institution through the Center for First-Generation Student Success.

Ferris offers first-gen students various opportunities to help them succeed in school and graduate. These include designated RSOs, helpful workshops and scholarships.

Michelle Kelenske has been working as the advisor for the First Generation RSO on campus since before it was reinstated in Oct. 2019. This group strives to “provide resources, camaraderie [and] self-mentoring with the students who are farther in their program and have been on campus longer.” The overall goal is to ensure first-gen students are comfortable in the college environment, they have necessary information to help them and that they feel proud to be first-gen students.

Kelenske can relate to these students because she was also a first-gen student when she attended college. She said that she “understands the lost feeling” many students face while navigating their unique college life.

One aspect of the First Generation RSO that Kelenske loves is the student members’ energy.

“This particular group of students are some of the most resourceful people I have ever met,” Kelenske said. “They amaze me often. This is the true reason I feel honored to get to know as many individuals as possible.”

Kelenske believes that it is very important to help and supply resources to first-gen college students whenever possible.

“The first-generation college students struggle is real,” Kelenske said. “If we have the ability to assist [them], why not? Whether they are hungry, need more money for books, do not know how to fill out their FAFSA, or are homeless because they cannot get along with their suitemate and do not know the protocol, it is our sense of duty to provide for them.”

Another way Ferris provides resources for first-gen is through hosting workshop events.

Associate professor of developmental curriculum Dave McCall assists in creating helpful 30 minute workshops every Wednesday via Zoom.

“The aim of the First-Gen initiative is to support and celebrate our first-generation students,” McCall said. “The Wednesday Workshops are just another opportunity for us to help support our students. While they are promoted to First-Gen students, they are really open to all students.”

McCall was also a first-gen student when he attended and graduated from Ferris. His empathy drives his passion for this initiative to help current and future first-gen students. The workshops have many goals when reaching out to students.

Most importantly, McCall and everyone else involved wants to help students “learn valuable skills and strategies” for success. The workshops also connect students in similar situations and can then build relationships. These events also show students how to navigate topics that they might not know how to do on their own like class scheduling, study abroad, or financial aid.

Students can also depend on First-Gen Allies around campus. These are faculty, staff and administrative members who agreed to be contacts for students when they need guidance or have questions. McCall added that not only do first-gen students benefit from these resources, but any students.

“What is great about the First-Gen initiative is that if we do what is best for First-Gen students, we are really doing what is best for all students,” McCall said. “There are many students who may not technically be a FirstGen student by definition, but they will still benefit if we create and develop things from the perspective of a First-Gen student.”

These campus resources, among others, are steps to lead first-gen students in the right direction so that they may achieve their professional and personal goals.

For Bury, he’d like to test drive cars for a while after he graduates and hopefully design a vehicle of his own to “make [a] mark on the automotive industry.” Above all, Bury wants to do his best and make his family proud.

For Franklin, she hopes to get involved with wedding and event management after she graduates. She would also like to do something in digital media, maybe social media marketing.

“Wherever I end up, as long as I am passionate about my work, I will be happy,” Franklin said.

Students are able to find more information regarding resources and opportunities through the Ferris First-Gen webpage.