The University of Arizona

First Cats, UA Launch First-Generation Campaign

If you haven’t heard about the First Cats program, then maybe you’ve seen some of their stickers, buttons, and door placards around campus.

Last month, First Cats launched its visibility campaign for first-generation college students at the University of Arizona, hosting a mixer for faculty, staff, and first-gen students.

Enrollment trends predict there’ll be an increase in first-generation students enrolling in colleges and universities over the next few years. Critically, the UA is leading the charge in supporting first-gen students, rolling out a campaign that collectively brings together everyone in the community, including staff, faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students.

This week, we caught up with Michelle McKelvey, Associate Director of Academic Success & Achievement, to talk about the progress of the campaign and First Cats in the near future.

Michelle, thank you for being here. First off, I think a lot of people are curious about how this campaign started. What inspired First Cats to begin this movement?

Michelle: A big part of why we wanted to start this visibility campaign is because the UA already has a large first-gen community on campus. Our goal is for people to recognize that even though the first-gen population is estimated to grow over the upcoming years, this community is already well represented at the UA in our faculty, staff and students.

Another reason is because a large number of Arizonans don’t have a college degree. It’s an opportunity for us to communicate to families that they can send their students to the UA and know they’ll be supported by a community that wants to see them succeed and be the first in their family to graduate with a college degree.

Did you have an idealized image of what you wanted the campaign to look like?

Michelle: It’s funny that you ask because since last summer, I’ve had this vision of UA students walking around campus with first-gen buttons on their backpacks. Last month, we handed out buttons, stickers, and door placards to all our attendees and I’ve been so excited to see them pop up around campus. Our Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Kendal Washington White, even has a First Cats placard on her door!

I know you had  over two hundred participants show up to your first event. But, do you happen to know how many total first-gen students are at the UA?

Michelle: This is a great question. It’s hard to track the number of first-gen students because first-gen status is self-reported. But when we sent out invitations, we had a list of over 10,000 students, staff, and faculty. We have a large, vibrant first-gen community at the UA and I’m excited to see our numbers become clearer as this campaign rolls on.

I’m sure you’re getting this question a lot, but what can people do to help with this campaign?

Michelle: This is a question that we’re receiving from a number of  faculty and students who are curious about what’s next and what they can do to contribute. We’re still in the early process of our campaign but supporting our efforts is as easy as hanging a First Cats placard on your door, or putting a button on your backpack. Participants can choose to be as involved as they want to be, and the beauty of this campaign lies in the fact that there are many ways people can show their support for first-gen students.

Where can people pick up a First Cats button, sticker, or placard?

Michelle: Visit us down in the Nugent basement and we’ll be happy to help! You can also call or email me.

What’s next for First Cats and where do you see the campaign headed from here?

Michelle: Right now, we’re working on helping students see that they have a lot of unique skills and assets that they bring to the University as first-gen students. We want first-gen status to be a point of pride and for our students to say “I’m not the only one to go through this journey and I know First Cats is a place that I can go to find support.”

Currently, we’re in the process of building up our website and social media channels so first-gen students can share their stories. In the future, I’d love to be able to provide programming, drop-in workshops, and mentoring opportunities to create the best support networks for our first-gen students in addition to the already existing programs on campus that also work with this community.

I’m excited about where we are but even more excited about the progress that we can make in helping even more first-gen students thrive at the UA! 

Want to learn more about the First Cats program and UA’s first-gen visibility campaign? Visit First Cat’s official Facebook account here! Email - | Phone – 520-626-8847 | Share your story –