Florida Southern College First-Gen Students Celebrate Their Journey

Nov 15, 2022

by FSC Staff

First-generation college students attending Florida Southern College gathered on Mr. George’s Green on Nov. 8 to play games, paint mini pumpkins, and enjoy food and drinks in recognition of First-Gen Day. To passers-by, the event had the appearance of a birthday bash.

First-Gen Day is a celebratory program highlighting the first-generation college student experience and the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The federal legislation was intended "to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education."

Thomas Range
Thomas Range, Director of Student Mentorship and Engagement

Students who are the first in their families to pursue a bachelor’s degree are considered first-generation. Director of Student Mentorship and Engagement, Thomas Range, says he works with that 17 percent of the student population at Florida Southern College, along with grant eligible students.

“First-generation college students are an amazing group of students, in that they are elevating their families,” Range said. “Obviously being the first in their family to attend college is an opportunity for them to not only be able to affect their families’ income, but their own individual incomes, as well. We all know the importance of a college degree.”

FSC’s Student Life takes proactive steps to ensure first-generation and grant-eligible scholars are successful. Each semester students are offered programs designed to inform and address their areas of concern and interest.

The Scholars Experience

Josephine Blackford
Josephine Blackford '23, president of Scholars Experience

Josephine Blackford ’23 is an elementary education major who is originally from Lakeland. She moved to Cape Coral at a young age but returned to Swan City to attend Florida Southern. She is the president of Scholars Experience, a student-run organization that pairs new first-gen students with a peer mentor who is already on campus, and who has had similar experiences.

“Scholars Experience was originally started on a grant in the spring of 2021,” Blackford said. “Since then, it’s really grown. We started a peer-mentoring program with it, so as soon as a new student, whether that be a first-year or transfer student, enrolls on our campus, they’re automatically enrolled in the program. We have peer mentors, who are at least second years within those demographics, that we’ve certified in peer mentoring that will reach out to them to kind of build that community. Even if they don’t take advantage of peer mentoring, they have people they know in the community on campus when they come in.”

As a first-gen student, Blackford said there were things about college life she did not know before coming to FSC. How to make friends on campus was one of the areas in which she lacked confidence.

“I didn’t really know how to go about it and I had no one to turn to if I wanted information about resources,” Blackford continued, “which is really why when this program was started with Scholars Experience. I really wanted to be a part of it and involved in it because it provides those resources, especially for first-year students, so they kind of have that community here on campus when they first step foot here.”

First-Gen Family Pride

Destiny Kimbrough
Destiny Kimbrough '23, a first-generation student from Tampa, FL.

Tampa’s Destiny Kimbrough ’23 is a biotechnology major with a minor in ethics. She says she is proud of being a first-generation college student.

“I am the oldest out of my siblings at home,” Kimbrough said. “So, I like to think that I am a role model for my siblings, not only just to go to college in general, but to follow their dreams no matter how hard it might seem to be. I think I’ve also met a lot of milestones along the way that make me very proud of myself.”

Business major Jack Lepore ’26 came from Long Island, N.Y., to attend Florida Southern. He said being a first-gen student at FSC is a great experience. When he visited the College, he loved it.

McKenzie Hall
McKenzie Hall '23, a first-generation student from Lakeland, FL

“I would like to make my father proud and my brother and sister.” Lapore said.

Majoring in communications and minoring in psychology, Lakelander McKenzie Hall ’23 said her parents have always been supportive and encouraged her to get a college education because they were not able to, but they do not put extra pressure on her.

“My advice would be to work hard; have a good work ethic,” Hall said. “College can be a little bit difficult sometimes. Get to know other people who might be in the same field as you, people who are also first-gen students because it’s a really good community and people really know how to connect with each other.”

Peer Advice

No longer new to college life, upper classmen said they would offer incoming students a bit of advice.

“Remember you have many resources on campus,” Kimbrough said. “We have the First-Generation Scholars Experience program. I also would recommend finding anything that you’re interested in, in general. Even though you are new to the college campus, you still have interests that you enjoy.”

Kimbrough is grateful that she had the support of her family during her enrollment process and while she was learning to be comfortable being away from home. She resisted the temptation to go home for visits during her first few weeks on campus and chose to be active in various organizations and to start a campus organization.

first-gen day activities
Enjoying the activities of first-generation day

“I started a new national chapter last semester for a club on campus for women in STEM,” Kimbrough said. “As a biotechnology major, I was very interested in that. I’m also a member of our Disney Club and I love going to Disney World.”

Blackford wants new students to know that they can ask for help if they need it.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” Blackford said she would tell incoming students. “That goes in terms of reaching out to services here on campus. Reach out to the counseling center if there’s ever anything you want to talk about or need to talk about. Reach out to your professors if you need help in your academics. Don’t be afraid to send them an email. Or just show up during their office hours. People will help you get where you need to go, just so long as you put yourself out there and ask.”

All of the first-gen students are happy with their decisions to attend FSC. Each has found their on-campus niche and is thriving.

“I mainly came back here [Lakeland] for Florida Southern College,” Blackford said. “I love the vibe here. I love the small, beautiful campus. I love that it’s completely walkable and I get opportunities here that I would not have gotten at any other campus.”