Anthony Cadle, an Economics major, is graduating from the University of Kentucky in three years, thanks to the First Scholars Program. He is the first member of his family to graduate from college, and he is the first First Scholar graduate. In a recent interview for UKnow, Cadle emphasized: “I owe everything that I am and am going to be to the First Scholars Program. It was hands down the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Matthew Deffendall, Director of First Generation Initiatives, led the First Scholars Program upon its inception in 2009. Today, Martina Martin serves as the First Scholars Program Coordinator, overseeing not only the selection process but also ensuring a smooth transition throughout the Scholars’ college experience. As Cadle describes it: “… being in First Scholars was like bowling with the guard rails up. You’re the one throwing the ball, but you have people making sure you’re heading in the right direction.”
Through a collaboration with many different support service units on campus, the First Scholars program helps first-generation students navigate the pressures of college life, addressing their academic, social integration, personal development, and financial needs. For example, the First Generation Initiatives Living Learning community in Blanding III Hall is open to all first generation students and comprising 42 students total. This intensive academic component contributed greatly to the First Scholars Program’s cohort of 20 which achieved 95 percent retention rate for 2011-2012 (compared to all of UK’s first generation student population retention rate of 74 percent). In May, selected first generation students from many different colleges will be traveling to London, England for an education abroad experience — while earning 4 college credit hours toward their undergraduate degrees.Students who are selected to participate in the First Scholars Program receive individualized strategic plans based on their needs, which are identified using the results of an assessment called the Student Strengths Inventory™. The goal of the First Scholars program is to help first-generation college students succeed in school and ultimately graduate from college. The program is open to incoming first-time, full-time freshmen whose parents have no more than two years of education beyond high school and no postsecondary degree. Selected students receive personalized support, including a four-year renewable scholarship of $5,000. Twenty scholars are selected each spring for enrollment the following fall. In 2011, 100 percent of the scholars returned for their sophomore year and 95 percent of both cohorts were retained at the end of the, 2011-2012 academic year. See the First Scholars website to see all current and past First Scholars.