Forty-six students, 16 faculty and staff, and two alumni became members of Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha), the national honor society recognizing first-generation students for academic excellence, at an April 28 induction ceremony. St. Lawrence established the Eta Nu chapter of Tri-Alpha this year to strengthen its commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students.
First-generation students are students whose parents, stepparents or legal guardians have not completed a baccalaureate degree. To gain induction into Tri-Alpha, first-generation students must achieve a grade point average of 3.2 or higher across 30 semester hours.
“Today is a moment for all of us to be reflective, to be grateful, for all of those people in our lives who have supported us,” said President Kathryn A. Morris as she accepted the Eta Nu charter.
Morris expressed gratitude for her late grandparents, only one of whom had a high school diploma, for the sacrifices they made to ensure their descendants were able to attend college. And she pointed out that college success also requires the support of people who care, including faculty and peer mentors. “We don’t get here alone. We get here because of our community, and this is a really strong community. I look forward to the future of this organization on our campus.”
While being a first-gen student is something to celebrate, it also comes with unique challenges, since first-gen students don’t have the benefit of family experience to help them navigate the culture and complexities of college life. St. Lawrence’s First-Gen Initiative was developed to provide support and community for first-gen students. The University is also a proud member of the First-Gen Forward 2021 cohort of 58 institutions recognized for their demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation student success.
Senior Kerlyn Caba, a history major from Harlem, New York, credited her professors for helping her develop confidence as a scholar. “They taught me how to keep going and reach my fullest potential,” she said, adding that she looks forward to being on campus this summer to mentor younger students as an academic program assistant for The Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). In the fall, she’ll serve as a teaching fellow at a high school in Massachusetts.
At the ceremony, inductees signed the induction registry and received honor cords and a pin bearing the Tri-Alpha logo along with the words “1st gen.” The logo features a star in the center of several circles, indicating the various communities of which members are a part–the community of St. Lawrence, the community of the North Country, and the community of the wider region and wider world.
“The star represents you, as a star in your family, lighting the way for others to follow your lead into higher education,” said Elun Gabriel, associate dean of academic advising and associate professor of history. Gabriel is one of three Tri-Alpha advisors, along with Associate Dean of the First Year Jennifer Thomas, and Tina Tao, coordinator of retention and academic support. Both Thomas and Tao were first-generation students within their families, and were inducted into Tri-Alpha.
“Being first can be hard; being first can be scary; being first can be exciting,” said Thomas as she led inductees in the initiation pledge. “By accepting membership in the Tri-Alpha honor society, you accept the responsibility of helping others as you have been helped, or as you perhaps wish you had been helped, to serve as mentors and guides for the next group of students.”
Faculty guest speaker Sara Ashpole was a first-gen student who is now associate professor and chair of the environmental studies department. She shared how as a student, in addition to challenging coursework, she had to overcome her parents’ skepticism about the value of pursuing an undergraduate education and then going on to pursue advanced degrees. “There’s something I think we all have in common—we have grit,” she said. “Everybody who’s a first-gen is not scared of failing because we’ve probably all done it. We’ve stumbled somewhere. The journey’s not over, it’ll still be tough. But you have grit and that’s what matters.”