First Generation Celebration


Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Diversity, Engagement and Success Ozalle Toms

Jake Klein, Journalist

UW-Whitewater’s First Generation College Celebration event is taking place Nov. 3 – Nov. 10 with multiple online events that cover a variety of topics for this special population. Throughout the eight days, the university will be celebrating and learning more about what the experiences are like for a number of first generation college students. 

The first event held was “Cultural Conversations,” which took place Nov. 5. This was a group discussion over WebEx that gave people an opportunity to ask questions about others’ experiences. Everyone has encountered different obstacles on their academic journey, and this event gave people an opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level. Participants split into small groups, which gave more people a chance to ask questions and share their stories. 

“This is all new for you and your family, and quite possibly scary,” advised freshman first generation student Cassie Schenkel. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and go for it!” 

A number of experts and organizers contributed to the week-long celebration, and a good amount of planning went into it all. Cheyanne Brocker, a graduate adviser for First Warhawks in Flight, organized the social media campaign. She works with a lot of “first-gen” students here on campus, and was able to reach them effectively about participating in this important event celebrating their hard work. 

“It’s nice to hear about everyone’s experiences, put myself in their shoes and relate it to what I went through. Working with first-gen students I can kind of see myself in them and what they’re going through,” Brocker said.

Many programs on campus are actually catered toward first-gen college students. Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Diversity, Engagement and Success Ozalle Toms oversees several of these organizations and has worked with many first-gen students since her arrival on campus nine years ago. Having been a first-gen student herself, she really enjoys the work she does day in and day out. 

“These are ways for us to talk with first-gen students about their experiences and what it’s been like,” said Toms. “Whether you’re the first person in your family to attend college, or even to study abroad, everyone’s experience is different.”