ECU named First-gen Forward institution for its commitment to the advancement, success of first-generation students

In recognition of its commitment to the success of first-generation students, East Carolina University has been selected as a First-gen Forward institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success.

ECU is one of 58 institutions named to the 2021-22 class of First-gen Forward, the nation’s first recognition program acknowledging higher education institutions for their commitment to first-generation student success. ECU joins a group of 157 colleges and universities from two previous cohorts in the national organization.

A person is considered a first-generation student if their parent or guardian did not earn a bachelor’s or higher degree. About 35% of ECU’s freshman class qualifies as first-generation students, said Karen Smith, director of the ECU Office of Student Transitions.

“ECU has a great foundation of programs that support our first-generation students,” Smith said. “This designation will assist in building upon that foundation to serve an even greater number of first-generation students.”

ECU will be able to network with national and regional colleagues of First-gen Forward institutions and will benefit from professional development, community-building experiences and access to the center’s research and resources.

Initiatives underway at ECU include I’m the First, a student-run organization that provides peer support through monthly meetings, and social and informational activities geared for first-generation students.

Other resources include a website developed for first-generation students and family members, which includes a listing of ECU faculty and staff who were the first in their families to go to college. The website also includes advice from other first-generation students and connects ECU students to the I’m the First organization. There’s also a sister organization, I Am First, in the Brody School of Medicine for first-generation medical students at ECU.

For the past four years, ECU has participated in the National First-Generation College Celebration with events ranging from receptions to panel discussions about supporting first-generation students.

At orientation, there’s a session for family members of first-generation undergraduate students to help them learn how to support their student in the transition to college and what to expect, Smith said.

ECU also offers a COAD 1000 freshman seminar tailored for first-generation students. “This allows students to connect with other first-generation students as well as talk about transition topics from a first-generation perspective,” Smith said.

ECU was the only UNC System school named this year as a First-gen Forward institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success. The organization is an initiative of NASPA, which is the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education organization, and the Suder Foundation.

“The center is so pleased to welcome ECU into the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that ECU is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”


ECU News Services
Howard House, 1001 E. Fifth Street
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-328-6481

Contact: Karen Smith, director of the ECU Office of Student Transitions,, 252- 328-4173