Kent State University Recognized Nationally for Programs to Assist Students First in Their Families to Attend College

Kent State University has been designated as a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success for its commitment to improving the experiences and advancing outcomes of those who are first in their families to attend college. The center is an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation.

“The center is so pleased to welcome Kent State University into the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort,” said Sarah E. Whitley, Ph.D., assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that Kent State is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”

As a First-gen Forward institution, Kent State will receive professional development, community-building experiences and first use of the center’s research and resources.

“It is an honor to be named a leading First-gen Forward university,” said Kent State President Todd Diacon. “This award demonstrates our deep commitment to helping all first-generation students successfully navigate the college experience and earn their degree.

WEWS-TV (Cleveland) recently reported on this designation: Kent State University nationally recognized for support, programs for first-generation students.

Eboni Pringle, Ph.D., dean of Kent State’s University College, said she is elated to be recognized as a First-gen Forward institution. 

“Receiving this First-Generation designation recognizes Kent State’s commitment to the success of all students,” Pringle said. “We are also excited that this designation will connect us to a cohort of other institutions focused on strengthening our support of first-generation students across the country.”

Liz Piatt, Ph.D., assistant dean of academic diversity success, worked on Kent State’s application for the First-gen Forward designation with Yvonna Washington-Greer, assistant vice president for equity, identity and success; Melanie Jones, director of Academic Diversity Outreach; and Adam Cinderich, director of Student Support Services. Jones and Cinderich are co-chairs of Kent State’s First-Generation Committee.

Piatt said achieving the First-gen recognition is important because it demonstrates Kent State’s strong commitment to first-generation students.  

“The First-gen Forward designation allows us to signal in a prominent way that we really care about students who are first in their families to go to college,” Piatt said. “For our colleagues in other departments and at other institutions, it allows us to highlight the work we are doing at Kent State to support those students.”

The Center for First-generation Student Success was established in 2017. The First-gen Forward recognition program was launched to continue with the “center’s mission as the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students.”

Kent State’s application included information about Kent State’s I Am First campaign, which is a celebration for Kent State’s first-generation students that launched two years ago. The university also had to demonstrate that senior leadership is committed to the success of first-generation students, Piatt said.

“We provided examples of how President Diacon has publicly demonstrated his commitment to first-generation students,” Piatt said. “We pointed to the text of the president’s inaugural address in which he highlights first-generation students.” 

The application also highlighted how many across the university work to elevate first-generation students and help with their success. For example, University College worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning to provide faculty with a workshop on how to support first-generation students in the classroom. Kent State’s partnerships with the LeBron James Family Foundation and the District of Columbia College Access Program were also included in the application. Students from both programs will join Kent State in the fall as freshmen.

For the next two years, Kent State will also participate in workshops, provide a feature blog post and give a presentation on first-generation students on campus. If Kent State continues to engage in the process, the university can apply for First-gen Forward Advisory status to coach other institutions. 

Piatt, who is a first-generation student herself, said many faculty and staff who work with first-generation students are also the first to have attended college in their families. She sees herself in every first-generation student that she assists. 

“Students who are first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree are really resilient students who bring a lot to our university and campus life, and we want to make sure they graduate. Our philosophy is based on the strengths and talents that make them invaluable to our university. We want to celebrate them.”

To learn more about first-generation efforts at Kent State, visit University College. To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit

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Media Contacts:
Liz Piatt,, 330-672-0948
Eric Mansfield,, 330-672-2797

POSTED: Tuesday, March 2, 2021 11:20 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 02:16 PM
April McClellan-Copeland