GREENEVILLE –Madison McGinnis and Jerry Ricker have changed the trajectories of their families by enrolling as Tusculum University students.
McGinnis, a senior from Knoxville who is majoring in sport science, and Ricker, a sophomore from Kingsport who is double majoring in sport science physical therapy and sport management, are classified as first-generation students. That means neither of their parents have earned a bachelor’s degree. About 60 percent of Tusculum’s students are first-generation.
These two students commemorated their status along with fellow Pioneers like them and administrators and staff members of first-generation programs at Tusculum. All of them participated in First-Generation College Celebration Day Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the Thomas J. Garland Library. In addition, many faculty and staff members who are first-generation students joined the festivities.
“It’s a good feeling to know that I’m the first in my family to come to college,” McGinnis said. “They’re proud of me. It sets a standard for my family. It was important because I wanted to get my education. I felt like I couldn’t get the job I wanted without the degree. I want to be an athletic trainer when I graduate, and you need a master’s degree for that. I plan to go to graduate school next.”
Ricker, who plans to become a physical therapist, has similar feelings.
“It means a lot to be a first-generation student,” said Ricker, who is also a member of Tusculum’s cross country and track and field teams. “I’m hoping to be an example for my brothers and sisters. It’s a big motivator for me going through college being first-generation. I’ve always wanted to go to college. I’ve enjoyed school all of my life, so why not put myself through more of it? From a sports aspect, competing in college was always a big goal of mine also.”
Ricker and McGinnis are participants in Student Support Services, a federal TRIO program that provides academic advising, financial literacy education, assistance with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, graduate school advising and counseling as well as tutoring. In addition, Tusculum offers the ARCHES program, which offers the same assistance for students in the university’s online undergraduate program.
McGinnis and Ricker are SSS mentors, a position that helps newer college students maneuver through any unknowns and find their bearings. Mentors also share valuable tips, such as expectations from professors. Both of them are extremely active in SSS, participating in a variety of events and going on the cultural and graduate school trips the program provides.
Ricker was also a residential advisor in the summer academy at Tusculum for the Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science programs, which serve high school students who will be first-generation college students. Being a first-generation college student motivated him to participate in the academy because he was once in those high school students’ shoes. He wanted to be a leader and representative for the university.
The Nov. 8 event was part of a nationwide observance held to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Authorization Act of 1965 into law. That act created federal financial aid programs and the federal TRIO programs that serve first-generation students. Tusculum started holding an event in 2019.
During the event, Tusculum’s library staff unveiled an exhibit highlighting first-generation contemporary authors. Students and Tusculum employees also wrote on white boards “First-Generation means that I am …,” snapped a photo and tagged it on social media. Tusculum faculty and staff members who are first-generation college students wore T-shirts noting that status. Tusculum was able to have the exhibit and other activities thanks to $1,000 scholarship from the Center for First-generation Student Success.
“We are proud to raise awareness of the first-generation experience and identity by partnering with the Thomas J. Garland Library team to showcase these exciting new resources that highlight the intersectionality of first-generation identities,” said Rachael Barnett, SSS’ director. “Being first-generation is not just one thing. It is an important part of our identity personally but also Tusculum’s identity.”
Kathy Hipps, the library’s director, said the scholarship allowed the facility to purchase 23 new books written by first-generation graduates. Among the authors are former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate; and actress Viola Davis. The books touch on multiple genres, including fiction, nonfiction, biography and autobiography, and will be available now to check out.
Following Hipps’ remarks, McGinnis read an excerpt from Obama’s “Becoming,” and Denise McKinney, an online student and Tusculum employee, read one from “50 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About College: Straight Talk for First-Generation students from First-Generation Graduates.”
Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president and a proud first-generation college student, also spoke and said Tusculum is excellent at serving first-generation students. He has seen how a first-generation student graduating has inspired others in that person’s family – even parents – to consider going to college.
He said one of the best ways to challenge and conquer generational poverty is through first-generation students.
“It’s certainly important to me that we don’t just provide access to college but that we also provide access to graduation,” Dr. Hummel told the audience. “I know that we have some students and you know that we have some graduates that would not have walked across that graduation stage and given me the opportunity to shake their hand if you had not been behind them and alongside them and prodding them. Sometimes, it was something as simple as believing in them. I appreciate all that everyone here does for our first-generation students.”
To learn more about Tusculum’s first-generation student programs, please visit https://site.tusculum.edu/student-success/academic-affairs/first-gen/. Additional information about the university is available at www.tusculum.edu.