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Center for Teaching Excellence

  • Darrius Means

Symposium Promotes First-Generation Student Success

The 2nd Annual Focus on First-Generation Symposium was held on Friday, March 15, 2024, from 9:00 am- 1:30 pm. It was held in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library. This collaborative event was made possible through collaborative sponsorship from Aramark, the Center for Teaching Excellence, the Graduation and Retention Network (GARNET), the Office of Access and Opportunity, TRIO Programs, and University Libraries. The symposium provided a platform for faculty, staff, and students to share ways to support the academic success and well-being of USC’s first-generation students. A total of seventy-two faculty members, staff, and graduate teaching assistants attended. 

Dr. Darris R. Means, Associate Professor of Higher Education and the Dean’s Faculty Scholar in Equity, Justice, and Rural Education at the School of Education, University of Pittsburgh, served as the keynote speaker. Dr. Means' keynote address focused on reimagining teaching, advising, and mentoring to enhance the success of first-generation students. He provided attendees with valuable insights into the background and challenges faced by first-generation students, as well as strategies to support their success. 

In addition to Dr. Means' keynote, the symposium featured a panel discussion with first-generation students, scholarly presentations by USC faculty and students, and a roundtable discussion. Dr. Means’ presentation served as a foundation for understanding the needs of first-generation students and exploring ways to promote their success. 

Attendees shared key takeaways for supporting first-generation students.     

  • Prioritize patience and attentive listening to understand students' needs. 
  • Provide access to resources tailored for first-gen students. 
  • Address hidden curriculum in course syllabi and simplify university language. 
  • Consider implementing Universal Design Learning (UDL) to benefit all students, including first-generation students. 
  • Increase group work and engagement activities in lectures. 
  • Simplify academic language to make university information more accessible and promote access to campus resources. 
  • Create surveys to gauge the effectiveness of initiatives on first-generation student experiences. 
  • Establish mentorship programs and individual check-ins for support. 
  • Collaborate with campus units, such as the First-Generation Center, for meaningful support. 
  • Foster a sense of belonging and community through outreach and social connections. 

USC recently established a First-Generation Center, aiming to offer dedicated assistance and mentorship to first-generation students, empowering them to excel in their academic endeavors. In March 2024, Dr. LaNaé Budden was welcomed as the first director of the center. Learn more about Dr. Budden’s vision for the new First-Generation Center. 

View Dr. Darrius Means' Keynote Address Video.

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