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Building Digital Communities for First-Generation Students and Graduates

“Supporting first-gen is not just following a trend, it’s filling the gap.” – Dr. Eve

For first-generation college students, their navigation and challenges don’t stop with graduation – it carries on in their graduate school and professional lives. In November 2020, a group of scholars, educators, and advocates shared their stories as first-gen students and graduate students. They further explored how intersectionalities showed up in first-generation students’ professional career and postgraduate life, as well as success in using digital space to raise awareness, build communities, and extend student support.

About Higher Ed Digital Community Builders

Organized by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, this Facebook group is a clubhouse for higher education professionals to connect, reimagine and transform how we build genuine campus digital communities and strategic online engagement experiences. Every week, community members share resources, discussions, and opportunities to further develop digital communities that serve our students, families, and partners in timely, innovative, and supportive ways.

Highlighted Content from Panelists

Links to what was mentioned during the panel (Click on the Image for Links). 

[1:10] When did you realize that you are a first-gen college student?

Identities don't leave, I’m still a first-gen even though I’ve already gone to college. I’m not only navigating this identity as a doctoral student, I'm also navigating it as a professional.

Throughout college and university, you have the support that’s there for you. But as an adult and as a grown-up, people forget about you. There was so much grace for students, but as a professional, there’s this narrative that you are all grown you are on your own.

[12:00] What is it like to start a digital community at different institutions?

I often tell people who are nervous about starting a digital community: find yourself a good student, because they know what they are doing. But you do have to be intentional with them and guide them.

[19:50] What’s the origin of First-Gen Docs, what’s unique about being a first-gen doc or graduate student?

People think that just because you are a doctoral student and you have navigated higher education before, you would know exactly what you are doing. But I want to explicitly state that first-gen undergraduate students have more resources that help them to be successful, as graduate students, we also need help. There are some things that come into graduate education that you don’t fully understand, and there are additional intersectionalities we have to navigate.


[28:00] How do you build a community on Twitter as a platform?

It's a team effort for us to engage; you get out there and you post. Letting people see who you are, being present, being consistent, and figuring out what people need - that’s how you can build community.


[29:40] Out of all the platforms out there, why did you or should you start a podcast?

I think we tend to think in the context of ourselves, our nation, our states, and our schools, but being a first-gen is everywhere. People don’t realize that being a first-gen is something worth talking about until we realize what students are or are not graduating, what students are doing well, and why. Supporting first-gen is not just a trend, it’s filling the gap.


[38:16] Since remote learning due to COVID-19, what have you noticed that are different for your engagement and content?

People are paying attention to self-care and are forced to slow down, so they have time to reach out to people in digital space to check-in or to notice.


[45:55] When people are building communities for first-gen college students, what do you think they should take into consideration?

Ask students what they want. The reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know, but you do have a sense of what you need and you may not know how to get it, and that would be the starting point.

Find the things that you are good at as a community or institution, and do it and be okay with this one thing. You don’t have to do a podcast, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. to be successful. Doing everything is great but remember to reflect where do you really want to show up and make an impact. You will find more success doing one thing or two things really REALLY well, than doing multiple things and wonder where’s the group.


[51:00] Where do you draw your resources and inspiration on your platforms? What keeps you going when it comes to social media space?

We can aspire for something more because there are people out there doing things that we want to do, and they come from backgrounds just like us.


Lamesha C. Brown Ph.D., Director of Advising, Testing & Career Services at St. Cloud Technical & Community College

Dr. Brown leads the Academic Advising Center team. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Apparel Merchandising from Washington State University, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Valdosta State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia. Her background includes housing, student success, first-year experience, and advising. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a central focus for Dr. Brown. She believes that every student has the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college and that her job is to focus on students and connect them to resources that will aid them in their success. Dr. Brown loves to bake; travel; and spend time with her partner, family, and friends.

Evingerlean D. B. Hudson, Ph.D., Founder & Chief Strategist at The First-Gen Lounge

Evingerlean D. B. Hudson, Ph.D., affectionately known as Dr. Eve, is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a first-generation college graduate who earned a Ph.D. at the age of 28. After years of service in postsecondary education, she decided to switch gears and started her social entrepreneurial journey.

Dr. Eve is the Founder and Chief Strategist of Evingerlean Worldwide–an entity created to help first-generation college students and graduates thrive through personal transformation and entrepreneurial development. As an empowerment speaker and author, Dr. Eve has touched thousands of lives across the world. Further, she leads The First-Gen Lounge, an international podcast, that has tens of thousands of downloads and has reached more than 80 countries. Dr. Eve holds degrees from Shaw University (the oldest HBCU in the South) and The University of Southern Mississippi–holding membership in both alumni associations. She is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and serves on the steering committee for The Black First-Gen Collective. In her spare time, Dr. Eve enjoys mentoring, reading, traveling, food tasting, cuddling with her chocolate lab (Maxwell Alexander), and adventures with her life partner, Dr. James M. Hudson

Symone Morales, Associate Dean & Director of First-Generation and/or Low-Income Programs Office at Stanford University

Symone is the new Associate Dean & Director of the FLI Office, having started in Spring 2020. She received her BA in Sociology and African American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s degree in Student Affairs from UCLA.
Before coming to Stanford, she served as the inaugural Senior Coordinator for First-Generation Campus-Wide Initiatives at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has designed and directed initiatives including course creation, alumni relations, and faculty advising. Under her vision and leadership, UCLA was named an Advisory Institution in the inaugural First-Gen Forward cohort of NASPA’ s Center for First Generation Success.


La’Tonya “L.T.” Rease Miles, Dean of Student Affairs at Menlo College


La’Tonya “LT” Rease Miles is the Dean of Student Affairs at Menlo College, where she leads, manages, and assesses all areas within Student Affairs, including budget and operational oversight. Dr. Rease Miles most recently served as the Executive Director of First-Year Experience and Strategic Initiatives at UCLA. Prior to her work at UCLA, she was the Director of the Academic Resource Center at Loyola Marymount University.

Dr. Rease Miles earned her Ph.D. in American Literature from UCLA and is nationally recognized as an expert on first-generation students and their first-year experience in higher education. She regularly consults with institutions nationally concerning first-gen students and also has advised local high schools (including Loyola High School and Verbum Dei High School) about developing programs on their campus. Finally, she established and manages a national Facebook group, “Empowering First-Generation Students.”

About Josie, Community Founder

Dr. Josie Ahlquist is a digital engagement and leadership researcher, speaker, and consultant. She teaches teens, young adults, education professionals, and campus executives how to humanize technology tools and prioritize building community online.

Josie absolutely loves fostering and educating about digital community building. So, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she created a Facebook group called the Higher Ed Digital Community Builders, which has grown to nearly 2,000 members. She also created and manages the Digital Community Building Cohort, a mastermind educational program for higher education social media managers to improve online community building strategies.

As a researcher and writer, Josie is extensively published and maintains an active blog and podcast, which have received accolades from EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her new book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World was listed as an Amazon #1 new release for college and university student life.

She also serves as a teaching faculty at Florida State University, creating curriculum to build digital literacy and leadership skills for undergraduates up to doctorate level students. Josie received her doctorate from California Lutheran University in Higher Education Leadership, Masters in Education from Northern Arizona University. She majored in sociology and human development at South Dakota State University.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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