First generation SIU students

From left: Alanah Rosas, Emily Cooper and Alyssa Roimiser are all first-generation students who are now mentors at the First Saluki Center. (Photo provided)


October 28, 2020

SIU celebrates its first-generation students and employees with special activities

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale is recognizing First-Generation College Celebration Day (Nov. 8) with several days of special activities.

With workshops, a virtual celebration, a documentary, a two-day technology session and more, the university will celebrate these groundbreakers – the first people in their immediate families to attend college – and recognize the challenges they face and their determination to succeed, said Lanel Love, assistant dean of students, director of SIU’s First Saluki Center and a double alumna of SIU who is the first in her family to graduate from college.

About two of every five SIU students are first-generation. Last fall, SIU launched its First Saluki Center to focus on first-generation students. SIU is one of just two Illinois higher education institutions to earn national recognition this year from the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, as a First-Gen Forward Campus.

“Our upcoming celebration is one example of SIU’s unique tradition of access and opportunity,” Love said. “First-generation students may have some academic and other challenges as the first in their families to attend college, but being first-generation college students also gives them the advantage of being eager to learn skills such as time management, prioritization, organization and critical thinking.”

Some activities are open to everyone; others are specifically geared toward first-generation Salukis.

Learn about being a first-generation student

A pair of special events will honor first-generation students and provide insight into their lives.

The Joint Virtual First-Gen College Celebration is slated for 1-2:30 p.m. Nov. 6. Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success, and Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, will speak, and a panel will discuss the history of the first-generation definition and the evolution of the TRIO programs. Register online at

“A Walk in My Shoes: First Generation College Students” is an inspirational documentary that tells firsthand stories of eight first-generation college students – their pasts, cultures, hopes, fears and dreams. Five are aspiring teachers, and three are successful educators; all are dedicated to careers in education. Watch at

Then, log on for a Zoom discussion of the film with its director, Rusty Earl, at 3 p.m. Nov. 6. A video producer/director at Kansas State University, Earl has made 15 documentaries in the past nine years covering a wide variety of topics. This one caught the attention of former first lady Michelle Obama, and she posted online about it. Earl will also field questions after the discussion.

Other events include:

  • “What’s the Next Step,” 3:30 p.m. Nov. 4, will offer information about graduate school options.
  • The First Saluki Virtual Lunch Table, a live virtual lunch experience every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. beginning Nov. 5, is a chance to connect with other students and discuss physical and mental well-being with staff from First Saluki Center and CAPS.
  • In “Resiliency: I May Bend, but I Will Not Break” workshop at 3 p.m. Nov. 5, First Saluki Center and the Health and Wellness Center will help first-generation students discover just how resilient they really are.
  • TRIO Student Support Services is hosting a virtual Trivia Night for all students from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 6 with prizes.
  • “Breaking Barriers: First-Gens in Tech” addresses opportunities in the technology field. The HubSpot event will be from 3 p.m. Nov. 9 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 10.

For more information, including links to events, see the flier or visit the website.

First Saluki Center fosters student success

The celebration is only one way the First Saluki Center has helped students pursue their dreams.

“Being a first-generation student was difficult for me because I had limited direction and knowledge of the college experience,” Alyssa Roimiser, a senior communication studies major from Carpentersville, Illinois, said. She noted that her college funds were “nonexistent” and although determined to work hard and be an excellent college student, she was “stepping into unknown territory.”

But she found valuable assistance through the First Saluki Center and its programs.

“Participating in the First Saluki Center Peer Mentoring Program prepared me to take on college,” Roimiser said. “The First Saluki Center has provided me with knowledge, mentors, scholarships and a job. I may have started college at a snail’s pace, but now I am soaring.”

In fact, she has held a variety of leadership positions at SIU as well, including currently serving as president of the Student Alumni Council and vice executive director of the Student Programming Council.

Emily Cooper, a senior journalism major with concentrations in news-editorial and mass communication and media arts from Mukwonago, Wisconsin, said that as the first in her family to attend college, she feels the “added pressure of having something more to work for. To me, that means having to go that extra distance to make sure we get the approval of our family. They have no idea what goes into college, so it’s that we assure they know. As first-generation students, we know that not everyone is able to attend college and that gives us the incentive to work harder and go that extra distance.”

Alanah Rosas, a master’s student in counselor education from Chicago, said as a first-generation college student she is “breaking barriers” and is “no longer a statistic within my community. I am a Hispanic woman who comes from a low income area, so being a first-generation college student means a lot. I took my circumstances and background that I was born into and turned it into something positive for my future.”

Rosas, Cooper and Roimiser now serve as trained Peer Mentors there, helping other students as they’ve been helped.

For more information about SIU’s First Saluki Center, visit the website, call 618-453-6870, email or follow the center on Twitter at

Rusty Earl

Rusty Earl, director of the documentary “A Walk in My Shoes: First Generation College Students,” will talk with first-generation students Nov. 6 (Photo provided)