Embrace being a first-generation college student!

Being a first-generation college student means neither parent has completed a four-year degree. At North Central College, we're proud that nearly 40% of our students are first-gen. Here, first-gen status is a point of pride among our students, faculty and staff. That's why we offer cardinal first.

Cardinal First

North Central College is nationally recognized as a leader in first-generation programming and student success. In 2023, the National Student Clearinghouse launched the DEI Data Lab, a collaborative effort to advance student outcomes, and featured Cardinal First as an evidence-based program. Our program was also featured in a 2023 USA Today article, a 2020 University Business op ed article and was the subject on a 2019 feature on National Public Radio (NPR) in honor of National First-Gen Celebration Day.  We think that recognition is great — but our greatest accomplishment is ensuring you exceed your personal best both at North Central and in life. 

Cardinal First Event

Our Mission

The mission of Cardinal First is to provide a supportive and welcoming community for first-generation college students and their families, a campus culture that recognizes and celebrates first-generation student identity as an asset, and a program that intentionally connects first-generation students to faculty, resources, information and experiences that promote academic and personal success from enrollment through graduation.

An Award-Winning Program

North Central is nationally recognized as a leader in first-generation programming and student success.

  • Cardinal First was selected by Excelencia in Education as the “2021 Example of Excelencia” in the Baccalaureate category for its asset-based approach to serving Latino students. Excelencia in Education is the nation’s premier authority on efforts accelerating Latino student success in higher education. The 2021 Examples of Excelencia were selected from 21 finalists among 145 national submissions. Cardinal First is featured in Excelencia in Education’s “What Works for Latino Student Success” database as an evidence-based program. 
  • In recognition for our commitment to first-generation student programming, North Central was designated a First-Gen Forward Advisory Institution in 2019. With this designation, the College servers as a mentor for other higher education institution in their efforts to support and advance outcomes for first-gen students. 
  • Cardinal First received the 2018 Grand Silver Excellence Award and Gold Excellence Award from NASPA, an international professional organization for Student Affairs.
  • Cardinal First was the subject on a 2019 feature on National Public Radio (NPR) in honor of National First-Gen Celebration Day.
CF Awards

Reasons to participate in Cardinal First:

  • Access to a network of first-generation peers, faculty and staff who offer mentoring and support.
  • Opportunity to earn a renewable $1,000 Cardinal First Scholarship after one year of participation in the program.
  • A series of workshops for each year of your North Central experience:
    • Cardinal First Fridays: interactive workshops on the first and third Friday of each month designed to provide information specific to your first-year, first generation experience.
    • Cardinal First Sophomore Suppers: monthly workshops for first-gen sophomores and first-gen faculty.
    • Cardinal First Penultimate: monthly workshops for first-gen juniors.
    • Cardinal First Homestretch: monthly workshops for first-gen seniors.
  • Breakfast or lunch is available at each workshop. That's right, free food always included!
  • A yearly planner and calendar to keep you on schedule and informed of what's happening on campus.
  • An exclusive Cardinal First T-shirt, pen, water bottle and more.
  • Leadership opportunities available after one year of participation in the program.
  • Special First-Gen Academic Groups facilitated by first-gen faculty—see next section for details.
  • Connection to opportunities, information, resources and experiences.

First-Gen Academic Groups

Research shows that first-gen students are less likely to engage with faculty outside of the classroom—but we understand that faculty connection is important to a first-gen student’s success.  That’s why we have designed programs to help facilitate interactions between first-gen students and faculty. Our First-Gen Academic Groups provide a dedicated space for sharing ideas and discussing opportunities with faculty mentors—most of who are first-gen themselves.

Professor and student


  • First-gen Cardinals in Art & Design - Profs. Christine Rabenold and Kate Pszotka
  • First-gen Cardinals in Biology - Drs. Greg Ruthig & Joanna Weremijewicz
  • First-gen Cardinals in Business - Dr. Donnavieve Smith
  • First-gen Cardinals in Chemistry - Dr. Paul Brandt
  • First-gen Cardinals in Communication & Media Studies - Prof. John Stanley
  • First-gen Cardinals in Computer Science & Computer Engineering - Prof. Luis Aloia
  • First-gen Cardinals in Education (formerly Teach First) - Dr. Lindsay Wexler
  • First-gen Cardinals in English - Drs. Quanisha Charles and Jennifer Jackson
  • First-gen Cardinals in Engineering & Physics - Dr. D. Rico-Aniles
  • First-gen Cardinals in Environmental Studies - Dr. Reed Perkins
  • First-gen Cardinals in History - Dr. Ann Keating
  • First-gen Cardinals in Health Science & Sport Management - Prof. Tami Kadera
  • First-gen Cardinals in Kinesiology - Prof. Taylor Arman
  • First-gen Cardinals in Mathematics & Actuarial Science - Prof. Maria Orjuela Garavito
  • First-gen Cardinals in Philosophy - Dr. Shaheen Moosa
  • First-gen Cardinals in Political Science - Dr. William Muck
  • First-gen Cardinals in Psychology & Neuroscience - Drs. Alexis Chambers and Nicole Rivera
  • First-gen Cardinals in Shimer - Dr. Stuart Patterson
  • First-gen Cardinals in Theatre - Dr. Laura Lodewyck


  • First-gen Cardinals in Athletic Training - Dr. Kendall Selsky
  • First-gen Cardinals in Education & Higher Education Leadership - Dr. Maureen Spelman
  • First-gen Cardinals in Occupational Therapy - Dr. Kelly Frystak
  • First-gen Cardinals in Physical Therapy - Drs. Leanna Blanchard and Gillians McLean
  • First-gen Cardinals in Physician Assistant Studies - Dr. Tim Woods
  • First-gen Cardinals in Professional & Creative Writing - Dr. Zachary Jack

Cardinal First Transition- For New Transfer Students

For our first-gen new transfer students, we offer Cardinal First Transition- a series of lunch workshops during your first two months on campus. The workshops are hosted by Cardinal First Ambassadors who transferred to North Central and are also first-generation college students. These workshops introduce the new transfer students to one another and to the valuable resources, student organizations and important opportunities available to them.


Cardinal First $1,000 Scholarship

After one year of active participation in the program, all first-gen students are eligible for a renewable $1,000 Cardinal First Scholarship for their remaining years at North Central.  

  • General Eligibility
    • Must be a first-generation college student (neither parent has completed a four-year degree).
    • Must be full-time undergraduate student at North Central.
  • Scholarship Requirements
    • Details regarding scholarship requirements are shared at every workshop.
    • Attend required minimum number of monthly one-hour workshops (generally 8/year).
Celebration Day

Meet the First-Generation Programs Team

  • The Office of First-Generation Programs is here to answer any questions and support your personal and professional growth from your first day on campus through graduation. We are your “guide on the side” throughout your North Central experience.
    • Julie Carballo – Assistant Dean
    • Marissa Gaigalas M ’20 - Associate Director
    • Ken Thomas M’25 - Graduate Assistant
    • Brian Gambuzza ‘23 | M’25 - Graduate Assistant

Cardinal First Ambassadors

Our Cardinal First Ambassadors are a group of first-gen student-leaders who are excited to meet you. This built-in network of mentorship and support is ready to welcome you, answer any questions, and provide you with encouragement and guidance as you work toward earning your college degree.

Additional Information

Cardinal First Students in t-shirts

Student Testimonials

Cardinal First graduate with parent

Family Resources and Testimonials

First Gen faculty member

First-Generation Faculty

Group of Cardinal First students

Cardinal First Outcomes

Cardinal First Event

Cardinal First Events

alumni network

First-Gen Alumni Engagement

Get Social with Cardinal First

Follow Cardinal First and Teach First on Facebook as well as our Cardinal First Instagram and use #FirstgenForward in your posts.

Cardinal First meeting