Colorado State’s First-Generation Scholarship Program Fulfills State of the Union Mission

When President Clinton in his State of the Union Address underlined his desire to provide college education for all students, Colorado State University student Dianne Holland listened intently.

Holland, a senior in the College of Applied Human Sciences’ occupational therapy program, knows what it is like to be the first in her family to attain a college education. She credits Colorado State’s First Generation Program with providing her with the support, both financially and emotionally, that she needed to graduate this May.

"Colorado State and the First Generation scholarship have changed my life and really opened up a whole world of possibilities that I had never allowed myself to think about," Holland said. "Financially, dreams of college just weren’t feasible, but I knew there was something more to life than what I was doing."

Colorado State created the First Generation Award Program 13 years ago to provide higher-education opportunities for students who are the first generation of their families to attend college. The program also was designed to promote diversity within the university’s student population.

Holland, 34, said she was never enthused about academics until she helped her husband start a bricklaying business. At that point, she began accounting classes at Front Range Community College and felt a spark of energy when she realized how much she loved learning.

"I was amazed at the excitement I felt about being back in the classroom, so when I found out about the First Generation scholarship from a friend, my dreams suddenly seemed possible," she said.

Now, Holland said she looks forward to her graduation in May, followed by internships at Poudre Valley Hospital and Spring Creek Health Center. Eventually, she would like to work in hippotherapy, using horses and the human-animal bond to empower people with disabilities.

James Gonzales, a graphic arts senior in the College of Liberal Arts, credits the First-Generation award for bringing him to Colorado State.

Gonzales, a Colorado Springs native, said the financial aspects of a college education were daunting to his family, but the challenge of the college experience was even greater.

"The First Generation award has really provided the stability I needed in college," said Gonzales. "My parents have been a wonderful support system, but because my parents haven’t gone to college, they just can’t answer some of the questions I’ve had about the whole process. The scholarship gave me a chance to really experience student life and provided the resources to understand what I needed to do to excel."

Since 1984, the program has awarded $7.03 million to 1,122 people. This school year, the program will award a total of $766,000 to 268 people, which includes 79 first-time award winners along with 189 students who have renewed their scholarships. First-generation recipients have a grade-point average equivalent to or higher than the university average.

"The First Generation Award is a dramatic and successful representation of the university’s continuing land grant commitment to make education accessible to deserving applicants from all classes and groups, regardless of socio-economic circumstances," said Paul Thayer, director of the Center for Educational Access and Outreach. "This program really fosters excellence among the graduates who will serve our society."

"It is truly an incredible group," said Barb Musslewhite, program coordinator for the First Generation Award program. "Every year, I am struck by the overwhelming pool of talented students that we have. It has become even more difficult to select award winners because of the outstanding caliber of candidates."

Students interested in the scholarship must be state residents who demonstrate financial need and have been admitted to Colorado State in a degree program. Applicants for the award also write essays that are judged for evidence of leadership and academic potential.

Musslewhite said the award recipients aren’t the only ones to benefit from the program. Family members, including Holland’s older brother, often follow the example of their First Generation children or siblings.

"My brother has now started classes at night. He basically said, ‘If you can do it, so can I,’" Holland said. "I just hope that other people will allow themselves to dream and pursue the resources that are out there."

To find out more about the First-Generation Award Program, call the Center for Educational Access and Outreach at (970) 491-6473.