by Annie Dubois

Navigating the inner workings of higher education is a daunting prospect, especially for first-generation college students. Fortunately, MSU’s Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative (NSSC) and TRIO Student Support Service programs steer first-generation students in the right direction by providing access to resources and support. These efforts recently earned MSU acceptance into the Center for First-generation Student Success’s First-Gen Forward Cohort.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is an initiative formed by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and The Suder Foundation with the aim to advocate for first-generation student success. Institutions that are accepted into the First-Gen Forward Cohort demonstrate continual commitment to first-generation student success and are given opportunities to advance their practices. Over the past three years, the Center’s First-Gen Forward Cohort has grown to include 157 institutions across the nation. 

Spearheading MSU’s involvement with the First-Gen Forward Cohort is Dr. Perry Fittrer, Deputy Director for the NSSC and Director of the TRIO Program, and Christina Bridges, Assistant Director for the TRIO Program and first-generation doctoral student in MSU’s educational leadership program.

“Working for the First-Gen Forward initiative is a great opportunity for the TRIO and NSSC programs to elevate the work we’re doing to impact first-generation students while also informing our practice with networking and professional development opportunities,” Bridges said.

Being a member in the First-Gen Forward Cohort provides a unique opportunity for the NSSC and TRIO programs to enhance their first-generation student initiatives by attending professional development conferences, receiving feedback from annual reports, and learning from a network of institutions within the cohort. The two programs also hope to expand collaboration internally at MSU by working with campus units to create a more inclusive curriculum for first-generation students. 

The opportunities provided by the First-Gen Forward Cohort will have a profound impact on the 28% of first-generation students in the MSU student body by elevating initiatives like summer Bridge programs, first-year seminars, and mentorship programs.

Summer Bridge and first-year transition programs begin the acculturation process for incoming MSU students by familiarizing them with online platforms, materials, and terminology used by the university. The first-year seminar then expands on these lessons by actively mentoring students through institutional procedures and practices, like contacting different academic offices, approaching professors, and attending office hours.

“The [NSSC and TRIO] programs are rooted in the idea that there is a hidden curriculum to being successful at a university and exposing students to that curriculum to build their bank of knowledge is tremendously important,” said Fittrer. “These programs are less about us handling issues for students, and more about us coaching students through various processes and building help-seeking skills.” 

Although the two programs serve a multitude of students, they have adopted an individualistic approach, led by the philosophy that each student comes to the university with different strengths and assets. By considering these assets and listening to student experiences, the programs embrace fluidity in student experience and tailor their programs each year to meet evolving student needs.

“First-generation students are not a complete monolith,” said Bridges. “There are similarities, but every student is different. We use the literature to support what we do but listening to the students in real time is the best data that we can get. Everything we do with scholars is scholar-driven and based on where the student wants to go. It’s important for students to know that their situation doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.”

The NSSC and TRIO programs have already started advancing their first-generation forward efforts. Over the next year, the programs will be forming a committee on first-generation student success. Any MSU affiliates are welcome to join and are encouraged to reach out to Dr. Perry Fittrer at