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Missouri Southern celebrates first generation college students

JOPLIN, Mo. - To Ava, Missouri native Hunter Vanvalkenburg, a college education isn't something to be taken for granted. 

"Neither of my parents had this opportunity, and nobody else in my family really did. So, I know this is a really big deal," says Vanvalkenburg.

Neither of her parents got a college degree, so she wanted to do better. 

"I really wanted to do something with my life other than, you know, stay in the small town," explains Vanvalkenburg. 

So, she's charting her own path. 

She's a sophomore English major at MSSU and is the editor of the student publication Bordertown. 

But, it hasn't been easy. 

"It's been harder than I thought," says Vanvalkenburg. "I work a lot of night shifts so I don't have a lot of time to do homework once I get back from work. But you really just have to find the time."

On Friday, Hunter and other first-generation students like her were the focus of a celebration held by Project Stay. 

"64 percent of our students on campus, are first-generation students. And as a first-generation student, I know how critically important and you want to make your family proud by graduating, and so we just wanted to take the day to celebrate all our students, particularly our first-gen students," says Debbie Fort, Director of Project Stay. 

It was also an opportunity to offer services to first-generation students who don't have the advantage of asking their family for advice. 

"Because you don't have anyone in your family, an older brother or a parent to say, 'Hey, what should I do about this?' So, it requires students to grow up a lot in a short amount of time. So, we're here if they just need to vent, if they just think they can't go on, but they can," explains Fort. 

Students that came to the celebration appreciated the support Project Stay gives them and thought it was great they were being recognized. 

"Project stay has been very helpful because not only is it a support system for you, you get priority enrollment too. So you get to enroll and just kind of be stress-free into the next semester," says Kennedee French, a senior and first-generation student. "So them doing this is really awesome cause they're the only people on campus that acknowledge first-generation students."

"It's nice to you know, have your efforts recognized by the school and be like you know, 'we see you guys, we notice what you're doing can be kind of hard especially considering a lot of backgrounds that first-generation students come from. And it's nice to be recognized for that," says Vanvalkenburg.

But at the end of the day, Hunter still recognizes that her experience isn't something to take for granted. 

"It's something my parents always wanted for me... and to be able to finally achieve that is really important," says Vanvalkenburg.

The celebration was also a part of National First-Gen Day, which started three years ago.

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