Officials host inaugural First-Generation Student Success Conference

By Taher Zeitoun

DeKALB — NIU and professors from surrounding colleges gathered to discuss the success of the CHANCE [Counseling Help and Assistance Necessary for a College Education] program and share ideas on how to best serve first-generation students.


A first generation student is defined as one whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a bachelor’s degree. It essentially means they are the first member of their family to attend a four- year university, according to First Generation Student Success Conference informational pamphlet.

CHANCE Director Denise Hayman said the event revolved around the CHANCE program celebrating over 50 years of service to students by hosting its first annual first generation conference. She also said it allowed members of CHANCE and academic professionals from other colleges give presentations on different subjects in order to provide a higher education for first-generation students.

Lisa Perez, doctoral candidate and education grad student at University of Illinois, said her presentation was focused on bringing awareness to first-generation students who are expecting or have children. She said a lot of these students come from diverse backgrounds and many could have children.

Perez said NIU is a great example of successfully providing resources to parenting students in need. She also said University of Illinois needs to increase its lacking resources, to better provide support.

“It’s important to develop more of an awareness towards the struggles and demands these parenting students face in order to provide academic support and avoid them feeling isolated,” Perez said.

CHANCE Academic Counselor Christopher Mitchell said his presentation focused on the examination of the black male image and the power of the code. He said the code stands for a deeper understanding and examination behind what someone is wearing.

“The culture of the environment these students grew up in creates certain fashion trends, and in urban environments your status is defined by the clothes you wear,” Mitchell said

Mitchell said the common myth, ofmore black men being incarcerated than in college is false. He said there are roughly 1.2 million black males enrolled in college compared to the 800,000 in prison.

Mitchell said code switching is an important tactic he used in achieving success as a African American academic counselor. He said code switching is the process of alternating between different vernaculars in regards to the situation.  

Joi Perkins, freshman visual arts major, said before the presentation she did not know the effect code switching could have in everyday life.

“I have definitely seen it used a lot in the culture I grew up in and after seeing this presentation I am finally able to see the positive influence it can have if used correctly,” Perkins said

Haymen said the conference was a success and she is grateful for the opportunity to be a positive resource for first-generation students. She said professional gatherings like this are important in being able to educate first-generation students on important smart decision-making.

“Conferences celebrating success like this provide CHANCE staff opportunities to work with professionals from different colleges in order to provide a better environment for these first-generation students to grow, learn and transcend past what they know,” Haymen said.