Today@Sam Article

Centered On First-Gen Success

Aug 15, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

first genWith a campus community comprised of approximately 50 percent first-generation students, along with many staff and faculty, it’s no surprise that Sam Houston State University offers numerous outstanding programs for these students. While many resources are provided across campus, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael T. Stephenson recognized the need for a “one-stop shop” for first-gen students and their families, particularly as they tour the university and then get settled on campus.

To optimize programs and information on how to succeed, the university has launched SHSU’s First-Generation Center housed on the second floor of the Newton Gresham Library next to the Academic Success Center.

“The new center is located in the heart of campus because it is a large part of who we are at Sam and the heart of this institution,” Stephenson said. “It is public-facing, demonstrating our commitment to the success of our first-gen students. The universities that provide programs that address the specific needs of first-gen students are far more likely to retain and graduate those students. I want to make sure we are providing the appropriate level of support and guidance.”

Lt. Col. Joe Contreras

To help elevate the importance of SHSU’s first-gen student population and coordinate efforts across campus, Lt. Col. Joe Contreras has been appointed as executive director of the new First-Gen Center.

Contreras’ background includes over 20 years of service as an Army officer. In the past four years, he has led SHSU’s Department of Military Science and said it was an easy decision to continue his career at Sam.

“The seven Army values, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage, that we live by as officers closely align with SHSU’s values,” said Contreras. “While going through the process of finding a position for the next chapter of my life, I knew I wanted to continue to positively impact students’ lives and this position provides that opportunity.”

As a first-generation student during his own college years, Contreras knows the challenges of navigating university life without the benefit of family knowledge and expertise on the ins-and-outs. He aims to ensure that the new center gives those students and prospective students a sense of belonging within the greater campus community.

“This First-Gen Center provides the space for all those around campus who are dedicated to first-gen student success to be at the table together to share ideas, successes, research and the best practices. I’m incredibly excited for these individuals to share their work and combine efforts so our students benefit from their expertise and dedication on a larger scale,” Stephenson said.

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