BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College kicked off its First-Gen Week Monday as a way to celebrate the achievements and acknowledge the hardships of its students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Monday is designated National First-Generation College Student Day. Bethany defines first-generation college students as a student whose parents have not graduated from college.

In the opening event, Dr. Aris Winger, an assistant professor of mathematics at Georgia Gwinnett College, encouraged students to consider not what job they want to have, but to consider what type of person they want to be.

“I like to remind my first years … there is an intellectual, moral and spiritual transformation that will happen at this place,” he said. “I think we’ve forgotten this, or maybe never realized, that this is the reason we are at this institution. … Do not lose out on this opportunity.”

Winger became the first in his family to graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Howard University. He went on to receive a Master of Science and a Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences.

In addition to his role at Georgia Gwinnett, he is the mathematics director at Hybrid Education of Greater Atlanta and a co-founder and CEO of Mathematics Enrichment through Diversity and Learning.

He lost his mother and father at a young age and was raised by his grandmother, aunt and uncle.

Winger said the importance of “generation” in the first-generation concept is acknowledging those who sacrificed for the students to have the opportunity to attend college. He also congratulated the students who were willing to step into something that hadn’t been done before.

Being an orphan in inner-city Washington in the 1990s is part of what Winger calls his “real resume” – the one that includes the challenges he’s overcome.

During times of struggle, “I want you to remember your real resume, and that one grade won’t look so bad,” he said.

One of the challenges facing first-generation colleges is a sense of loneliness, Winger said. However, it’s a myth that first-gen students have to face their journey alone.

The idea of a National First-Generation College Student Day is a testament to having a network of people, including faculty and peers, who are willing to help.

“Some of the deepest relationships you will have are [with your faculty],” he said. “They are there to support you and lift you up in ways that you don’t even realize yet.”

Launched in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Success, National First-Generation College Student Day recognizes the anniversary of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which helped millions of disadvantaged students become the first members of their families to earn college degrees.

The Student Success Team is hosting Bethany’s First-Gen Week events.

Every day this week the McCann Learning Center’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts will feature scavenger hunt clues. Students who complete the weeklong hunt will be entered into a prize drawing.

“Tell Us” Tuesday invites students to share their experiences as first-generation college students on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by using #1stGenStrongBC.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, a panel discussion featuring faculty, staff and students via Zoom will address Things I Wish My Profess/Students Knew: An Open Conversation.

A FAFSA workshop is set for 11 a.m. Thursday in the Student Success Lounge in the T.W. Phillips Memorial Library.

The week will wrap up with a faculty and staff social Friday at the McCann Learning Center.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.