When Denise Beautreau was named the new director of Lehigh’s Center for Student Access and Success in February 2020, she knew she wanted Lehigh to take part in the national First Generation College Celebration Day #CelebrateFirstGen2020, which is held annually on Nov. 8 at colleges and universities across the country to recognize the contributions of first-generation students to their campuses. Beautreau saw the observance as an opportunity to not only provide #firstgen students at Lehigh with an opportunity to share information about their identities and journeys, but also to recognize the accomplishments of first-gen Lehigh faculty and staff who serve as an inspiration.
“We pride ourselves at Lehigh on being family and a community,” she says, ”and I saw the stories series as an opening to build those relationships and networks of support, a moment to get to know our family members better and make our community stronger.”
In her role, Beautreau coordinates and implements the Center's initiatives to expand student access to the university, with a focus on first-generation and lower-income students. She advises the F1RST Club for first-generation students, coordinates with offices across campus and serves as Lehigh’s point of contact for the American Talent Initiative.
We asked Beautreau about what people may not understand about first-gen students:
“I think oftentimes the individuality and uniqueness of each of these students gets lost in the general identity/classification of first gen students. They are much better served if we take the time to know them, their individual needs and how best to support them. Also, a lot of the angst and challenges in the way one sees themselves as a first gen student never really goes away even after graduating and becoming successful career professionals. So, sharing affirmations with those students and other simple displays of support go a long way.”
Here is some advice from Beautreau to her #firstgen self:
“...Remember that you are doing all these things, exploring all these new journeys, oftentimes with not much support from those you would like because they probably don’t know how to help or don’t have the knowledge/information that you need. So take that into consideration and always remember that though you want to make your family and friends proud, you should always do what works best for you, what you feel comfortable doing and remember to have grace for yourself. Don’t be too prideful that you don’t reach out and ask for help when you need it and take advantage of all the resources and support that are available. You are more than deserving of all the great things that come your way, never second guess if you “belong” somewhere. You do!”