“Me 1st” is Empowering First-Gen Students to Believe in Themselves


No matter what form it takes -- a blueprint, a guide, or a mentor -- we all need a little help sometimes. For first-generation students, help has come from a new Nashville State student organization called “Me 1st.”

Inspired by the bumpy journey many first-generation students experience, Gail Harris,Assistant Professor of Communication Gail Harris assistant professor of Communications at the Nashville State Clarksville campus, has created an organization dedicated to making that journey a little easier.

“My goal is to eliminate some of the barriers first-generation students encounter,” Harris says.

Harris, a passionate advocate, holds a special place in her heart for those first in their family to attend college because she was once one of them.

There is often the “fear of the unknown.” 

Now, she is setting out to create a blueprint of success for these students.

While the organization officially started in the fall of 2023, “Me 1st” had been on Professor Harris’ mind since 2019.

In a short time, it has grown to 37 students, with more interested every day.

“First and foremost, I want students to graduate,” Harris said and she takes pride in how the members have grown as a group and as individuals.

Me 1st students gather to celebrate the holidays at the Clarksville campus“I’ve watched them come together and unite. I challenge them and they’re able to grow.”

Harris has focused on three pillars: mentorship, opportunity, and connection.  She seeks to empower students to believe in themselves.

“Students have bought into the vision of ‘Me 1st’ and its importance,” Harris says. “I can just mention something, and they’ll create it.”

One of those students sharing in Professor Harris’ passion is Serena Luss, a first-gen student studying social work.

“When I first heard of ‘Me 1st,’ I was excited,” Luss said.

Commenting on the difficulties she encountered when beginning her Nashville State journey, Luss said, “When I first started, I was lost.”

Though she may have felt lost at the start of her college career, Luss has stepped into her role as the student leader of “Me 1st” and run with the opportunity.

She says she is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help other students find their way.

“I want students to come in and learn this blueprint. I want them to have the knowledge to move and know which direction to go,” Luss says.

From financial literacy classes to community engagement, to organizing food and toy drives, or simply helping new students navigate the halls of the Clarksville campus, Harris and Luss share a positive vision for the future.

“I’m passionate about what we’re doing,” Luss says. “It’s going to keep moving and once it spreads to other campuses...I think it’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

As students flourish, Professor Harris hopes the organization will expand to other Nashville State campuses and share the template for success they are creating in Clarksville.

“I want them to grow on their journey,” Harris says. “You may start as a seed, but by the time it’s all over you’re a tree. That is my hope and vision for them.”

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