Skip navigation links

Nov. 5, 2020

First-generation students forge successful paths

Part of Michigan State University’s land-grant mission is a commitment to expanding opportunities for a diverse population of learners, including first-generation college students.


To be the first member of a family to pursue and complete a college degree is an achievement worthy of recognition, as the journey to that moment often covers challenging and unfamiliar territory.


Nov. 8 is designated as First-generation College Celebration day by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success. The date marks the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which was intended to provide opportunities for many minority and low-income Americans.


Michigan State is one of 11 large public research universities working together to increase graduation rates for low-income, minority and first-generation students as part of the University Innovation Alliance. With first-generation students accounting for more than 15% of last year’s entering class, a 90% retention rate for first-year students and a record-high graduation rate of 81%, MSU continues to increase access, opportunity and successful outcomes.


MSU programs such as Trio Student Support Services and the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative provide first-generation students with assistance in navigating the university system, building academic skills and engaging in meaningful academic and life experiences.


Read about the experiences of some first-generation Spartan students as well as faculty members who were the first in their families to earn a college degree.


First-generation stories


“That term ‘first-gen’ is a title that comes with its own unique set of challenges, yet I don’t know that I would change it if I could.” Read more

Name: Josh Klein
Hometown: Lake Orion, Michigan
Year, areas of study: Senior, human biology major, entrepreneurship and innovation minor
College: College of Natural Science and Broad College of Business



“My history teaches me to persevere in spite of all odds.” Read more

Name: Janet Ibarra
Hometown: Bangor, Michigan
Year, areas of study: Senior, social policy and political science major, Chicano/Latino studies minor
College: James Madison College and College of Social Science 



“Everybody at MSU wants me to achieve great things. I want that too.” Read more

Name: Marcus Bingham Jr.
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Year, areas of study: Junior, media and information major
College: College of Communication Arts and Sciences




“In May, it will feel amazing when I receive my diploma, thankful for every sacrifice my parents have made.” Read more

Name: Renee Prvulov
Hometown: Chesterfield, Michigan
Year, areas of study: Senior, professional and public writing major, creative writing: fiction minor
College: College of Arts and Letters



“To any other first-generation college students worried about how they will manage college, my best advice is to find a mentor.” Read more

Name: Jalin Jordan
Hometown: Farmington Hills, Michigan
Year, areas of study: Senior, chemistry major
College: College of Natural Science



“For those students who feel as if they don’t fit in or that money will be an issue, take my advice: You DO belong here and there will be ways to get things done.” Read more

Name: Kiara Zarate
Hometown: Pharr, Texas
Year, areas of study: Sophomore, child development major, Chicano/Latino studies minor
College: College of Social Science



“A big part of my journey is that I took advantage of every single resource that came my way.” Read more

Name: Kathrine Yacoo
Hometown: Warren, Michigan
Year, area of study: Second-year medical student
College: College of Osteopathic Medicine



“I want students from all walks of life to feel comfortable in their own skin and to feel valued for the experiences they bring to the table.” Read more

Name: Vashti Sawtelle
Associate professor in the Department of Physics, Lyman Briggs College and College of Natural Science



“There’s this degree of knowing that comes more easily for those who have access to resources, preparation and quality education. And, for those who don’t, there’s the not knowing.” Read more

Name: Yomaira Figueroa 
Associate professor in the Department of English, College of Arts and Letters


By: Beth Brauer

Media Contacts

Stay In Touch

Updating your MSU alumni profile information helps us keep you informed about Michigan State University events, activities and news.


Update Profile