First Gen @ UCA

What is “First Gen”?

“First generation student” means that your parent(s) or primary guardians did not complete a 4-year college or university degree, no matter whether or not the rest of your family did.  If that’s you, our FirstGen@UCA Program is here to help you succeed in your efforts to earn your degree.  Many First Gen students are academically ready for college, but have questions about HOW to do college.  FirstGen@UCA can help answer those questions.  So ask your questions! Please let us know how to help you by contacting or calling the office.

First-Generation Scholar’s Society

The First-Generation Scholars Society (UCA’s F1RSTs) purpose is to provide a place for first-generation students and their supporters to come together and share experiences. This organization provides resources, services, and programs to assist first-gen students in their success at UCA. We are a departmental registered student organization (RSO) created to provide a support system of students helping students navigate through college.

To join- add yourself to our GroupMe using this link UCA’s F1RSTs or

You can also connect with us on Cub Connect!! CLICK HERE

First Gen Faculty & Staff Stories 

Adriian Gardner

Senior Lecturer Student Transitions, School of Communication
BA University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 1987
MA University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 1994
Graduate, Edward L. Coleman Leadership Institute, 2016

I was never the best or smartest student in the room–never–but I was always in the room. I attended class–always. I met with my professors and used available campus resources. I was always in the room.

My simple advice is for students to always be in the room and use available campus resources. My questions to you: Are you in the room?


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Ashley Hicks

Resident Master STEM – Department of Learning Communities
BS in Physics, UCA 2013
MSE in Mechanical Engineering, UT Austin 2015

As a First Gen student it was a struggle sometimes navigating the hidden world of the university. Even when my parents wanted to help there were things they just didn’t know or understand! I encourage every First Gen student to make use of the resources available to them and reach out to faculty and ask for help when there’s something they don’t understand. We won’t laugh at you our think you don’t belong here because you have questions, I promise!


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Taine Duncan

Chair, Associate Professor – Philosophy & Religion
BA, Psychology and Humanities (Philosophy), Marshall University, 2005
MA, Philosophy, Duquesne University, 2008
PhD, Philosophy, Duquesne University, 2010
Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies, Duquesne University, 2010

Find folks on campus you can trust to help you navigate the university–like Student Success and First Gen faculty! Also, when I worked throughout college and had to schedule study hours, I found other students with jobs to form study groups with. The Non-Traditional Student Organization and First Generation Scholar’s Society might be great places to start to find your study groups.

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Shaneil Ealy

Associate Vice President — Outreach & Community Engagement
BS, Business, U of A, 2000
MBA, UCA, 2003
EdD, UALR, 2016

You may be a first-gen in your family to attend college but you won’t be the last-gen to graduate from college! Pave the way for others in your family and show them how it’s done! Take advantage of all the support staff and programs you have access to on our campus and never be too proud to ask questions or ask for help. You got this!


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Marvin Williams

Student Success Coordinator – Office of Student Success
B.S. in Speech Language Pathology, UCA, 1995

My Mother dropped out of the 7th grade at the age of 14 when she became pregnant with me. I was the oldest of three children and the first in my family to attend college. When I left Osceola to attend UCA, my mother was disabled, extremely sick, and could not support me financially. Leaving home, I felt a sense of guilt being her oldest and caregiver. I was scared to death when I was dropped off on campus. I didn’t want to fail and disappoint my family. I did well in high school, but I quickly learned college was not the 13th grade. I am so grateful for the connections I made with advisors, staff, and faculty and through registered student organizations. They were my support. My mother came to campus only once, May of 1995. She was beaming from ear to ear when I walked across that stage to receive my degree. She passed away in September of that same year, but I will never forget how proud she was of me. My advice to first generation students would be to take advantage of all the resources UCA offers, not be afraid to ask for help, get connected on campus, and remember why you are here. If I did it, so can you!


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Kelly Owens

Dean of Students – Student Services
B.S., Criminology, Arkansas State University, 1997
M. Ed., Higher Education Administration, University of Arkansas, 2000

Ask questions! Your goal should be to learn how college life works and what can make you successful. Pretty soon, you will be the one answering questions. Always remember what it was like to be the newbie, and graciously provide help to anyone who asks. Get involved! Become invested in the campus community. You may not realize it now, but you are building relationships that will last a lifetime. Allow yourself to fail…and expect it to happen! Things will not always be perfect or go as planned. By asking question and leaning on the relationships you have built, you can put yourself back on track. Be accountable! Own your mistakes, and own your successes. You are not “given” grades, you earn them based on your actions. Be kind…to everyone! We are all carrying baggage so do what you can to lighten the load for someone else. Be the reason someone smiles today.

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Julia Winden-Fey

Director & Faculty Member – Office of Student Success
BA, Denison University, 1988
MA, Union Theological Seminary, 1990
PhD, University of Southern California, 2003

When you’re first gen, you think you’re the only one who doesn’t know how college works. But you’re not! Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek advice. You have an entire team of staff, faculty, and other students here to help you succeed. Reach out to your advisor, faculty, peer coaches, tutors, RAs! Or email me if you don’t know where to go or whom to ask! Also, many students think getting a college degree is about “being smart.” You’re here, which means you’re smart enough. The real challenge is persisting and doing the work required. That’s how you complete your college degree.


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Nadia Eslinger

Assistant Director – Office of Student Success
BA History, UCA 2005
MS CSPA, UCA, 2008

Being the first to go, stay, and graduate (twice) in my family opened doors for my cousins, nieces, and nephews. It made them believe that if I could, they could, and they did! I didn’t have it all figured out, but I asked questions and was determined to graduate! My grandfather always told me, “A closed mouth never gets fed.” Ask for what you need!


Picture of Kayley Taylor