First Generation Conference – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

First Generation Conference

The “Trailblazers of Tomorrow Conference” took place on Dec. 2 and brought the HWS first-generation community together to discuss tools for achieving personal and professional success in college.

The keynote address, titled “Trailblazers and Cartographers: First Generation Narratives,” was given by Rachel Edens, who serves as the assistant dean and advisor to first generation and/or low income students, as well as the assistant dean for black students at Dartmouth College. Her work is focused on advancing equity across all intersections of identity, educating for civic engagement, community asset building and ensuring access to education for learners of all backgrounds.


During her talk, Edens discussed her experience as the first person in her family to attend college. Later in the day, Edens facilitated a conversation with Associate Professor of Chemistry Christine de Denus, who directs the HWS program and is herself a first-generation college graduate. They discussed how to empower students with the skills and tools they needed for their undergraduate career and the future. Conference participants also had time to share their individual stories in small groups about what it is like to be the first in their family to attend college.

Students were also encouraged to develop and use resources available to them on campus through information sessions with the First Generation Initiative (FGI) and the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education.

“The conference gave students, faculty and staff a chance to talk about ways to help first-generation students navigate college,” says Christopher Williams ’19, who helped coordinate the event along with de Denus, Jake Burnias ’18, Kelsey Vedeer ’21 and Director of Residential Education Shelle Basilio-Murray.

The FGI helps students maximize their college experience by ensuring academic, social and co-curricular guidance, and by encouraging them to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that HWS offers, both during and after their undergraduate years.

In a session led by Director of the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education Brandi Ferrara titled, “Professionalism in College and Navigating your Path to Graduation,” students learned the importance of building a resume, participating in job shadowing experiences and internships, on campus jobs and extracurricular activities.


“This event was a great opportunity to get closer to the faculty and staff who were first-generation students,” says Tiffany Green ’21.

“Walking away from the conference at the end of the day, students had developed new relationships with old and new first-generation friends, developed skills to become self-advocates and recognized that there is a strong community at HWS committed to helping them be successful in their endeavors,” says de Denus.

After the conference, a number of conference participants attended the Madrigal Dinner – an evening of fine dining and performances by the Colleges’ Chorale and Cantori, in order to support members of the FGI community who performed in the concert.