UofM Selected as an Inaugural First Scholars Network Institution 

July 14, 2020 - The University of Memphis has been selected as part of the inaugural cohort of First Scholars Network institutions by the Center for First Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and the Suder Foundation. The UofM was chosen to join the network after demonstrating a commitment to advancing the outcomes of first-generation students through improving both first-generation student success initiatives and institution-wide approaches. 

First Scholars supports programmatic initiatives to support first-generation students throughout the student lifecycle and beyond. The network draws upon carefully crafted institution-focused and student-centered actionable outcomes designed to deliver these results and provides a complete ecosystem of processes, tools and guidance designed to work within the UofM’s specific environment. 

“The University of Memphis is honored to partner with the First Scholars Network, which is nationally recognized as the vanguard of student success movements to increase matriculation and graduation rates of students who are the first in their family to earn a college degree,” said Dr. Karen Weddle-West, UofM vice president for Student Academic Success and director of Diversity Initiatives.  

“Seeded by the historic and extraordinarily high retention and graduation rates of our First Scholars program, supported by the Suder Foundation, our student success initiatives targeting first-generation students are flourishing and expanding to provide a customized suite of services for undergraduate and graduate students. The outcomes of academic success programs underscore the value we place on increasing completion rates for all students, a salient goal and core mission of the University of Memphis.”

The University of Memphis joins 31 institutions in building upon already successful programmatic elements for broad scaling while creating systemic cultural shifts that address first-generation student success with intentionality. First Scholars aligns clearly defined, measurable goals with institutional data to identify gaps, track progress and create systems allowing leadership to make informed choices resulting in improved student outcomes, strengthened enrollment management, collaborative programming and preservation of resources. 

For more than 15 years, the UofM has worked to expand its capacity to support first-generation students, who account for more than a third of the University’s undergraduates. Today, the University is home to three federally-funded TRIO programs (two Student Support Services programs and an Upward Bound program), the First Scholars Program, two learning communities for first-generation freshmen and the Memphis Career Preparatory Academy, which trains students to serve as peer career coaches.  

In fall 2019, the University established the Office of First Generation Student Success through a partnership with the Suder Foundation and the NASPA Center for First-Generation Student Success. The office works to coordinate the University’s efforts to build on the successes of the First Scholars and Student Support Services programs. In its first year, the office has developed a first-generation peer mentoring program and the Design Your Memphis Experience program, which engaged first-year first-generation students in the career planning process. 

The University of Memphis has been nationally recognized for its efforts to support first-generation students. In 2019, the University was one of 80 colleges and universities nationally to be designated a First-Gen Forward institution in recognition of its strong commitment to first-generation student success. As a First Forward institution, the UofM is designated as an institute of higher education which has demonstrated a commitment by improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation students. Throughout the past year, the UofM has also continued its goal to build a more comprehensive model to support first-generation student success in retention, persistence and graduation. The Office of First-Generation Student Success hired a new director, Cory Major, to lead all campus first-gen initiatives.

The UofM First Scholars program also selected 20 new students to join the four-year scholarship program, bringing its total number of students in the program to 80. First Scholars continues to show strong success indicators of the program, including an average program GPA of over 3.1 and 100% fall-to-spring retention the last three years. All active First Scholars are on track to graduate within five years or less. The students have also completed more than 2,000 community service hours since fall 2018.

First Scholars institutions will partner with the Center for a two-year experience that will provide: 

• Expert guidance and tailored resources converging to support institution-wide systemic transformation    and provide on-time, first-generation thought-leader expertise;
• An integrated framework that combines evidence-based and targeted solutions to propel institution-wide systemic transformation and confidently scale holistic student support across the academic career of first-generation students;
• Robust inventory, assessment and reporting structures focused on first-generation student support and institutional cultural shifts; 
• Scalable initiatives and programmatic toolkits customizable to the institution that address the immediate needs of administrators and practitioners; and
• Structured, cross-collaborative learning with institutional partners from across the higher education landscape.

To learn more about first-generation efforts at the UofM, visit www.memphis.edu/firstgen or email firstgen@memphis.edu. To learn more about First Scholars and the Center for First-Generation Student Success, visit firstgen.naspa.org