Cody Walker remembers growing up in Oak Hill not always having the same experiences as his peers. Now, several years later, he's among several other first generation college students at WVU Tech. 

WVU Tech students, faculty and staff celebrated Wednesday the 3rd annual First-Generation College Celebration in response to an event in 2017 when the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), in partnership with the Center for First-generation Student Success, celebrated the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration with an event on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday's date also marked the 54th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA), which has helped millions of first-generation, low-income and under-resourced students persist to degree completion.

Walker, a WVU Tech senior studying civil engineering, spent three weeks this past summer in The Netherlands studying abroad, and he was the only student from West Virginia who was accepted into the summer program. Although Walker has had many accomplishments in his college career, he remains humble and never forgets where he came from. 

"I remember growing up, there were some things I just wasn't able to do," he told an assembly as part of the campus celebration. "I never went on vacations, except for once when I went to the beach, and that was with my friend's family, and I wore hand-me-downs most of my life."

Walker mentioned growing up in a single-wide trailer for the greater part of his life, and when he reached middle school his family upgraded to a double-wide. 

"There was nothing wrong with that," he said. "I'm thankful for everything I had, and I always had everything I needed, whether it was food, water or a place to call home." 

Walker and his brother were the first generation in their family to attend college. His senior year, Walker had no clue how to pursue college — how to apply, how to fill out a FAFSA, or how to even pay for it. 

"But, I figured it out, I managed, and I am so thankful I did," Walker said. "No matter who you are, you can go to college. No matter where you came from, you can go to college. 

"It's an adjustment at first, and you have to deal with a lot of things, and overcome a lot of challenges, but keep going. Keep pushing, it's so worth it." 

Walker ended his talk with a quote: "How you make your money is more important than how much you make." 

WVU Tech received a grant from the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to host a series of events during the 2019 First-Generation Week on campus. As one of twenty-four institutions across the country and the only one in West Virginia to receive the grant, WVU Tech hopes to build upon previous First-Generation Celebrations.

“WVU Tech has a strong tradition of supporting first-generation students on campus and continues to combat the various obstacles those students face while earning their college degrees,” said Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO and Diversity Programs at WVU Tech.

TRIO Student Supports Services is a program working to assist students in overcoming the barriers to earning a college degree. The program is voluntary, and is designed to serve students at WVU Tech who meet at least one of the following requirements: 

• Income eligibility as determined by federal government guidelines 

• First generation college student (neither parent nor guardian has graduated from a four-year institution)

• A documented sensory, psychological, learning or physical disability 

The program services 215 students at WVU Tech annually. Applications can be filled out by contacting Robertson at 304-929-1293, or sdrobertson@mail.wvu.edu

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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