Missouri Southern’s Project Stay hosted a First-Generation Celebration Day event in Billingsly Student Center Friday, Nov. 8. The event took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and students and faculty were invited to come celebrate the accomplishments of first-generation students.

The Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success created the First-Generation College Celebration in 2017. This event became very successful in 2017 and 2018 that it has become an annual celebration.

National First-Generation College Celebration takes place on Nov. 8 in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1865. The act helps “level the playing field” for Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. This also created federal grants and loan programs to help students with financial struggles to achieve their higher education.

Debra Fort, director of Project Stay, highly recommends applying for Project Stay to first generation students. 

“First gen students don’t have anyone in the family to get advice from on such topics as, ‘Should I drop a class?,’ ‘How do I change my major’ or ‘How do I apply for summer school financial aid?’  We are happy to help them negotiate college life,” said Fort.

Project Stay is a federally funded TRIO program whose mission is to provide a broad range of resources for students as they complete their bachelor’s degrees and transition from graduate school to their careers.

“Project Stay’s goal is to help students graduate. We provide many different services and resources to help them achieve their goals,” said Fort.

Among the resources Project Stay provides include academic advising for students with undeclared majors. They will guide the students to develop a course plan in obtaining their degree. All services are free for Project Stay students.

Project Stay also provides opportunities to go on trips at no cost to the students.  Some of their previous trips include Silver Dollar City, New Theater in Kansas City, The Castle at Muskogee, and Wildcat Glades. The trips will depend on availability and budget.

Students must meet one of three eligibilities to join Project Stay: First-generation student, documented disability or meet income guidelines. 

“We only serve 175 students however and 64% of our students are first gen as self-identified on the FAFSA.  That means there are over 3000 students at MSSU that are first generation. We want to create an awareness of First Gen on campus and have conversations on how we can help them persist to graduation,” said Fort.

Being a first-generation student herself, Fort believes it is important for students to be the first in their family to earn a college degree. It makes families very proud to see the success of the students in their family. Advisers also feel proud when they see students have a sense of accomplishment when achieving in higher education.

“I am always so very proud of our students. Each student at MSSU has their own story and reasons for wanting a college degree.  As advisers we see the struggles they must overcome to persist to graduation.  We also help them learn the ‘hidden rules’ of college,” said Fort.

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