student recipient at first-gen awards ceremony

First-Generation Student Achievement Award

The First-Generation Student Achievement Award honors one first-generation undergraduate student and one graduate or professional first-generation college student who has pursued and met ambitious goals, demonstrated commitment to academic excellence, and created pathways for/inspired other first-generation students to also excel at the University of Iowa.


2023 Award Nomination Information
Fall 2023 nomination dates will be announced in September 2023

Additional information, including required nomination materials and the link to the online nomination form for the First-Generation Student Achievement Award is available at: link tbd



1stGen@Iowa Awards

2023 Nomination Dates TBA
(will open in Fall 2023)

Established by the First-Generation Task Force in 2019, the 1stGen@Iowa Awards recognize first-generation student achievements as well as outstanding advocacy and support efforts of faculty and staff. Recipients of these awards are honored at the annual 1stGen@Iowa Awards and Recognition Ceremony, which is held every November as part of the university's participation in the annual National First-Generation College Celebration.  

All faculty, staff, and students are welcome to make nominations for any four of the awards.

If you have questions regarding the 1stGen@Iowa Awards or the nomination process for these awards, please contact Angie Lamb, in Academic Support and Retention, at or

faculty recipient at first-gen awards reception

Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy

The Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy honors one faculty member and one staff member or administrator who support first-generation students' education and serve as an exemplary advocate for first-generation students at the University of Iowa. It is not required that nominees have identified as first-generation students themselves. 


2023 Award Nomination Information
Fall 2023 nomination dates will be announced in September 2023

Additional information, including required nomination materials and the link to the online nomination form for the Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy is available at: link tbd


Save the Date:
2023 1stGen@Iowa
Awards & Recognition Ceremony

The UI First-Generation Task Force invites all students, faculty, and staff to join us!

Thursday, November 9, 2023
Location TBA
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

(reception from 3:00 - 3:30; ceremony to follow)

More details, including a registration link, will be announced in Fall 2023.

Previous 1stGen@Iowa Award Recipients

First-Generation Student Achievement Award Recipients

Selveyah Gamblin

Selveyah Gamblin is a fourth-year undergraduate student from Peosta, IA. She is majoring in Political Science with minors in Public Policy and Theatre Arts. Originally from Chicago, IL, Selveyah struggled to find her footing as a Black woman in a new environment, so she fought to be academically active and an advocate for other marginalized communities. At the University of Iowa, Selveyah became involved in leadership through Undergraduate Student Government where she advocated on behalf of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus. After finding her passion for advocacy and promoting inclusive initiatives, she found herself participating in many advisory roles and committees for the Dean of Students, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the UI Honors Program. In the spring of 2022, Selveyah was awarded the 2022 Wynonna G. Hubbard Scholarship through the Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women. She has been awarded several Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) Fellowships from 2021-22. Upon graduation, Selveyah hopes to pursue her passion for political and legal advocacy and continue to provide representation to marginalized voices. She is grateful for the sacrifices her friends and family have made to ensure she is the first of her family to graduate from college and hopes to continue uplifting students after her to succeed. 


Isaac Sarinana

Isaac Sarinana is a second-year law student at the University of Iowa College of Law. He grew up in Nichols, Iowa and graduated high school in West Liberty, Iowa. Isaac enlisted in the United States Army Guard at the age of seventeen in hopes of attending college with tuition assistance. Isaac decided to pursue law school after retaining an immigration attorney in Iowa City to sponsor a family member for permanent residency in 2016. After this experience, he enrolled in the University of Iowa on a pre-law track, earning a BA in Criminology, Law, and Justice Degree in 2021. He is a first-generation high school graduate, university graduate, and law student. Isaac spent his first summer internship exploring Iowa and Illinois workers compensation law, medical malpractice litigation, and employment discrimination law. Isaac looks forward to exploring other areas of law at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll next summer. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, weightlifting, and practicing wrestling and basketball drills with his two sons.


Mishma Noxon

Mishma Nixon is a senior from Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is majoring in English and Creative Writing with a minor in Social Justice. She is the first of her extended family to attend college, and the first in her immediate family to graduate high school. As a first-generation and international student, she is determined to make the best out of her college experience and has been actively seeking out opportunities to learn and give back. She has held leadership positions in the Campus Activities Board, South Asian Student Alliance, and International Student Advisory Board. She is also a Writing Fellow at the UI Writing Center and a UI Honors Program admin and peer mentor. Mishma was awarded the Global Student Award in 2020, an Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) Fellowship for the year 2020-21, and has also received various awards through the English department and the UI Honors Program. Academically, she is interested in children’s literature and the intersections of social justice and literature. Her dream is to facilitate stories and promote access to diverse children’s literature for children who grow up in the global south so they have a chance to see themselves reflected on the pages of their books.

Mary Aldugom

Mary Aldugom is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Psychological and Brain Sciences department at The University of Iowa. She is a graduate student in the Communication, Cognition, and Learning Lab, where she examines how manipulations to instructional design can enhance mathematical learning in children and adults. Mary is a Chicago native and she completed her undergraduate work at North Park University. As an undergraduate, she was the president of the Psychology Club, the president of the Middle Eastern Student Association, and the Psychology department TA. At Iowa, She co-founded and co-directs Our Collective Brains, an organization in Psychological and Brain Sciences and Neuroscience that supports first-generation and underrepresented minority students. She was born to immigrant parents, and she is a first-generation American, college student, and graduate student.

Michael Aragon-Jacques

Michael Aragon-Jacques, Originally from West Liberty, Iowa, Michael is a proud first-generation college student at The University of Iowa. In his time at The University of Iowa, Michael has been an Iowa Edge participant and peer leader. He has also led two Hawkeye Service Break trips including one sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Enrichment. As a first-generation college student, Michael knows the importance of first gen visibility in empowering other first gen students to get involved and he has always strived to be a role model. Michael is a senior at The University of Iowa and will graduate with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as a certificate in Entrepreneurial Management.

Ruth Kahssai

Ruth Kahssai is a fourth-year undergraduate student double majoring in Social Justice and Social Work with a minor in Psychology. She was born and raised in Carol Stream, IL and is the first in her family to attend college. Upon her arrival on campus, Ruth was overwhelmed with institutional challenges relating to her identities as a young Black woman, first-generation student, among many others. Soon, she found a passion for social justice and community building, which lead her to her academic and extracurricular path towards bettering campus for students like Ruth. She started in Campus Activities Board, and served in admin leadership and started the Inclusion Task Force in the organization. Ruth was heavily involved in Undergraduate Student Government and worked on initiatives such as Healing Spaces with Dr. Maria Bruno and chairing the 3rd Annual “I’m the First” First-Generation Summit. In her third year she worked as a Resident Assistant to the Political Matters Living Learning Community, a residence education community focused on political and social justice learning and engagement. In 2019, she traveled to Memphis, TN for Alternative Spring Break focusing on Racial Justice in the area. Ruth had another opportunity to travel in January of 2020 to the Dominican Republic for an interdisciplinary study abroad experience with the School of Social Work and Tippie School of Business. She has had multiple volunteer and internship opportunities, including the Women’s Resource Action Center, Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and Domestic Violence Intervention Program. Academically, Ruth is interested in the intersections of racial justice and public health. She worked with Dr. Lina-Maria Murillo as an Academic Intern in the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) department. In spring of 2019, Ruth was awarded the 2020 Kristen K. Lippke Memorial Scholarship through the GWSS and Social Justice program. She has served on numerous committees, including Iowa charter and search committee. Ruth now works with Dr. Maria Bruno in Belonging & Inclusion initiatives. Ruth’s goal since childhood has always been to attend college, and she is thankful to be able to complete this goal this upcoming May with the love and support of those in her college journey.

Adam Lorenzana

Adam Lorenzana is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa College of Law. He is a Long Island, New York native and completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. As an undergraduate Adam was elected student body Vice President, and at Iowa Law Adam was elected President of the Student Bar Association. Born to immigrant parents, Adam is a first-generation college, graduate, and law school student. In his free time, he enjoys cycling, watching the New York Mets and cooking.

Miguel Jacobo

Miguel Angel Jacobo is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Spanish and Interdepartmental Studies on the Pre-Med track. Miguel was born and raised in West Liberty, Iowa. This small town, which has a population of fewer than five thousand residents, is situated just outside of Iowa City and was the first town in Iowa to have a majority Hispanic population. Miguel, who is the oldest of four siblings, has long dreamt of coming to the University of Iowa, especially given its close proximity to his home town. Growing up in a household where neither parent had attended college made the reality of enrolling at the University of Iowa somewhat intimidating. Even though Miguel had always excelled in high school, he arrived at the university feeling uncertain with whether or not he could be just as successful in college. However, because of the numerous academic resources and developmental opportunities available to students, Miguel has continued to excel academically. In addition, upon his arrival Miguel struggled to meet peers with similar interests as his, and he initially found it difficult to connect to campus. Eventually Miguel discovered organizations like the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead (ALMA), the Iowa Edge (TIE) student organization, and other minority-based communities on campus that helped him successfully transition to his new surroundings. Miguel is now president of the Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Director of Public Relations for TIE, a 3rd year Peer Leader for the Iowa Edge Program, a mentor through ALMA, a tutor for TRIO Student Support Services, a Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) Scholar, and a proud student leader that helped push the social media campaign, #DoesUiowaLoveMe. While Miguel has received numerous awards for his academic achievements and service to the University of Iowa and its surrounding communities, he attributes much of his success to the many mentors he has been blessed to cross paths with.


Alexia Sanchez

Alexia Sanchez is a fourth-year undergraduate student pursuing degrees in Political Science, Social Justice, and Philosophy at the University of Iowa. Alexia is an experienced Resident Assistant with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education industry. She is skilled in administering campus initiatives through the University of Iowa Student Government to improve student life on campus. In 2018, Alexia studied abroad for the summer semester for three months in Verona, Italy with a focus on intercultural communication and also invested time in volunteering at a local children's center to help teach English. Upon her return, she directed the 2018 Homecoming Parade and hosted the second annual “I’m the First” First-Generation Summit. Alexia is passionate about social justice issues through policy and culture and challenges herself to learn about issues and be an agent for future solutions. Currently, Alexia is working to implement a Latinx Living-Learning Community on the UI campus called Unidos, which means ‘United’ in Spanish. She is currently the youngest serving president in Iowa for a LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Council in which she hopes to serve and support the local Latinx Community in Iowa City. This past winter, she was invited to attend the Global Women Leaders Forum in Iceland and then traveled to the Dominican Republic for a second study abroad experience. Alexia will graduate in May 2020, from the University of Iowa and hopes to one day work in the immigration field and continue helping marginalized communities.


Lucille Howard

Lucille (Luci) Howard grew up in Clutier, Iowa, a small, rural town with a population of 200 people. The daughter of a cake decorator and iron manufactory worker, Lucille was the first in her family to pursue higher education. She attended the University of Iowa and majored in psychology, graduating in 2014 magna cum laude. While at the University of Iowa, Lucille was the vice president of First-Generation Iowa, an organization dedicated to supporting first-generation students. Following graduation, Lucille began attending the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Throughout medical school, Lucille has been involved in the global health distinction track, traveling to Haiti to assist with cervical cancer screening efforts and rotating with the Oxford University Hospital in England. During the 2018-2019 academic year, Lucille moved to Baltimore, Maryland where she earned a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on women’s and reproductive health. Her capstone project examined racial disparities in quality of life among women diagnosed with breast cancer and she took a position as an outreach worker in southwest Baltimore, providing resources and support to individuals engaged in street-based sex work. Lucille returned to medical school in June 2019, and is currently applying for residency in obstetrics and gynecology. Her career goals include providing inclusive and equitable care to underserved populations and remaining involved with reproductive rights advocacy.


Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy Recipients

Julie Claus

Julie Claus is an avid reader who studied English Literature at the University of Iowa. She graduated with honors in 1984 and earned an MA in 1986. When Julie was reading her way through college, skeptics asked, “What do you plan to do with that degree?”  She landed her dream job at the Academic Advising Center. For 33 years she has spent her workdays in conversation with Iowa undergraduates inspiring them to create their ideal life story. One of those students, Nick Williams, a brilliant University of Iowa senior who identifies as first-gen, nominated her for the 2022 Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy. Julie is deeply honored by this. Julie is grateful to celebrate this award with her students, colleagues, friends, and family especially her son, Sam, who earned his civil engineering degree from the University of Iowa, and his wife, Jillna, a first-generation college student, who earned her MBA with distinction at  the University of Iowa as well. 2022 has been an exciting year in Julie’s life because she has been spending it creating storybook worlds with her imaginative one-year old grandson, Wyatt.


Jan Wessel

Jan Wessel grew up in a small town in the rural countryside near Germany’s border with the Netherlands. In 2008, he became the first in his family to graduate from college when he received a Psychology degree from Germany’s largest university, the University of Cologne. He then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neurology from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Diego. In 2015, he established his own NIH-funded lab at the University of Iowa, where him and his colleagues study the human brain’s ability to control thoughts and actions. In 2018, Jan received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. He used part of the funds included with this award to establish a First-Generation Brain Research Workshop at the University of Iowa. This free multi-day workshop allows first-generation students with interest in neuroscience to explore the methods of human brain research and to gain insights into the world of academic science. In his free time, Jan enjoys camping, woodworking, sports, and playing with his dog.


Lorie Schweer

Lorie Schweer was the first in her immediate and extended family to graduate college. She obtained an accounting degree from the University of Northern Iowa in 1984, and a law degree from the University of Iowa College of law in 2003. She has enjoyed teaching at the College of Law as a Professor of Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research since 2008.

Joseph Yockey

Joseph W. Yockey is the David H. Vernon Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law. He joined the faculty in 2010. He teaches and writes in the areas of corporate law, securities regulation, and higher education. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois College of Law, and he practiced at the law firm of Sidley Austin before moving to academia. He is the faculty advisor to the Iowa Law Review, and, in 2019, he co-founded the First-Generation Lawyers @ Iowa Law student organization. He also served as President of the UI Faculty Senate from 2020-21.  



Danielle Martinez

Danielle Martinez serves as the Director of Student Retention within Academic Support and Retention at the University of Iowa. She has a Master of Science degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Public Relations from Central Washington University. In her role in Academic Support and Retention, Danielle coordinates campus-wide early intervention and student success initiatives, but she also provides support, guidance, and mentorship to undergraduate students. Prior to joining the Academic Support and Retention team, Danielle worked in Diversity and Social Justice Programs, Housing and Residence Life, and Student Success Programs at several institutions, including Colorado State University, the University of San Francisco, DePaul University, and the University of Iowa. She is particularly interested in student retention, intersections of social justice, identity formation, and practical application. Danielle has facilitated workshops and trainings for various institutions and organizations. She continuously provides support and empowers people through individualized assistance, while fostering systematic changes to create safe and equitable spaces for historically marginalized populations.

Carolyn Colvin

Carolyn Colvin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. In an ironic narrative, Carolyn was teaching at San Diego State University and learned of West Liberty, Iowa by watching NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.  Standing in the middle of West Liberty’s sunny Main Street, Brokaw described this rural midwestern community as home to immigrant residents for 75+ years.  With a job offer at Iowa, Colvin traveled to West Liberty and a relationship was formed. Since 1993, she has directed an adult tutoring program for immigrant adults seeking to learn English. Often the adults brought their children to English class so over the years, Thursday evening classes became a family affair. In 2012, in a partnership with the West Liberty School District and supported by University funding, Colvin began collaborating with the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment and family members of the WL immigrant community to recruit first-gen/students of color to the university. In the 13 years of the mentoring program, she estimates that 300+ West Liberty students have enrolled at the University of Iowa. This is a tribute to the talented students from West Liberty, terrific support from CDE, including TRIO, and faculty/staff who generously welcome these students to campus. Carolyn remains dedicated to recruiting West Liberty students to become teachers! 

Cody Pritchard

Cody Pritchard joined The University of Iowa community in November 2015 as a Student Success Coach and Tutor Coordinator for TRIO Student Support Services (TRIO SSS), where he now serves as the Project Director. Cody is a proud first-generation college graduate earning his B.S.Ed. in Mathematics from Emporia State University (Kansas) in 2011 and his M.S.Ed. in Higher Education Administration in 2013 from the University of Kansas. Prior to joining The University of Iowa, Cody worked in fraternity and sorority life. Cody credits his undergraduate involvement, including being a founding member of his fraternity chapter, as his introduction to working in higher education, however, what really made him choose to pursue this path was his time spent as a tutor and peer mentor for the TRIO SSS program at Emporia State. Cody’s passion of first-generation student success extends beyond TRIO SSS and includes work with the 1stGen@Iowa Implementation Team, First-Generation Task Force, and others. 

Dana Thomann

Dana Thomann grew up on a family farm in small-town Iowa (Riverside, IA) with a high school graduating class of forty. She is a first-generation, 2005 graduate of The University of Iowa. Upon graduation, she ventured to South Dakota and completed a two-year commitment with Teach For America on the Rosebud Reservation. In 2007, she returned to The University of Iowa where she was employed by the Center For Diversity & Enrichment’s TRIO programs as a Coordinator of Academic Services and, later, directed the Upward Bound Project, securing grants to continue the program on The University of Iowa campus. She currently works as a Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric. Passionate about educational equity, she partners with the Academic Support & Retention team to embed peer tutors in Rhetoric classrooms to assist all Rhetoric students in achieving academic success. The program is called Success in Rhetoric (SiR). Thomann holds an M.F.A. (with distinction) in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University (2016). She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories that focuses on the drama and heartache of the 1980’s Farm Debt Crisis.

Cindy Seyfer

Cindy Seyfer is a proud first-generation student who is passionate about helping others achieve their goal of earning a degree from the University of Iowa. She is a firm believer in the importance of student employment and the ability of this employment to connect students to campus and help them refine their career path. Cindy earned a B.A. in Biology from Cornell College but her Work-Study job in the Admissions and Financial Aid offices launched her career path. She started at the University of Iowa as a graduate assistant in 1982 while earning her dual Master’s degree in Higher Education with an emphasis in Administration and Student Affairs. Cindy started as a financial aid counselor in 1985 and has remained at the Office of Student Financial Aid progressing from Assistant Director to Associate Director, Senior Associate Director and currently serves as the Interim Director. One of the highlights of her work is being able to collaborate with others on campus to problem-solve on individual student issues and to improve global processes to better serve students.


Shaun Vecera

Shaun Vecera has been a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences since 1998, and he is also a first-generation college graduate. After graduating from the University of Oregon, Professor Vecera received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to his research on visual attention and perception, Professor Vecera have been involved deeply in undergraduate education. In 2016, he was appointed as the inaugural Herman J. and Eileen S. Schmidt Chair for leadership in undergraduate education, and he received the 2017-18 President and Provost Teaching Award for Teaching Excellence. His classes are of all sizes, from large lecture classes, such as Elementary Psychology (in which he has instructed more than 12,000 students to date), to a first-year seminar titled “How Psychology Can Save the Planet,” to an on-line course titled "Learning About Learning" that helps students learn to learn more effectively. 

Previous 1stGen@Iowa Awards & Recognition Ceremonies

First held in 2019, the annual 1stGen@Iowa Awards and Recognition Ceremony is an exciting opportunity to celebrate our first-generation community and their many accomplishments. The ceremony, which coincides with the University of Iowa's participation in the National First-Generation College Celebration, also features the presentation of the 1stGen@Iowa Awards. These awards recognize first-generation student achievements as well as outstanding advocacy and support efforts of faculty and staff.  

2022 Awards Ceremony

2022 Awards & Recognition Ceremony

Keynote Speaker
Dr. James Ankrum
Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
The University of Iowa

Ceremony Highlights
2022 Ceremony Recording (coming soon)
Iowa Now 11.11.2022
Download Ceremony Program

1stGen@Iowa Award Plaques

2021 Awards & Recognition Ceremony

Keynote Speaker
Dana Thomann
Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric
The University of Iowa

Ceremony Highlights
Iowa Now 11.11.2021
Download ceremony program

screen capture from virtual 2020 first-gen awards ceremony

2020 Awards & Recognition Ceremony

Keynote Speaker
Dr. Shaun Vecera
Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences
The University of Iowa 

Ceremony Highlights
Iowa Now 11.12.2020
2020 Ceremony Recording (held online)
Campus Message to First-Gen Students (video)
Download ceremony program

2019 first-gen at Iowa award recipients

2019 Awards & Recognition Ceremony

Keynote Speaker
Dr. Kevin P. Campbell
Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
The University of Iowa

Ceremony Highlights
Iowa Now 11.11.2019
Download ceremony program