Students walking to Commencement

Helping First-Generation Students Access the American Dream

At the heart of American University’s commitment to inclusive excellence is our foundational belief that diversity, equity and inclusion make us stronger. Giving voice and opportunities to people of different races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, religions, nationalities, abilities, socioeconomic standings, and intellectual viewpoints is central to our vision of a university that addresses society's most important problems and provides a stellar educational experience.

First-generation (first-gen) students make up about 10 percent of the student body and are a vital part of that vision. Students who are among the first generation in their families to attend college often benefit from financial, academic, and social support as they navigate everything from the admission process to academic and community life. 

The university’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) supports first-gen students, helps them build community, and connects them with faculty and staff—some of whom are themselves first-gen students. CDI’s work to build awareness and mentoring relationships between first generation faculty, staff, and students is essential to building students’ sense of belonging and success at AU. The university was named a “First-gen Forward Institution” in 2020, a designation that recognizes institutions committed to improving experiences and advancing outcomes for first-generation college students.

Thanks to the generosity of university trustee Janice Menke-Abraham, SIS/BA ’79, and Kim Abraham, the $1 million Menke-Abraham Endowed Scholarship Fund creates scholarships for specifically for first-generation students. Menke-Abraham remembers how tough it was on her family when her father finished his degree at night school when she was a little girl. Her mother had to choose work over college, despite earning a full scholarship. “Although I wasn’t a first-gen student, I know that a college education opens doors, broadens horizons, and provides security,” she said. “AU is a welcoming place for all students and we hope this scholarship helps first-gen students achieve their dreams.”

Campaign Highlight
$1 million
Menke-Abraham Endowed Scholarship Fund
Janice Menke-Abraham, SIS/BA '79, and Kim Abraham

Brenda, SIS/BA ’20, is one of those first-gen students. AU was her dream school, but she knew her parents would be unable to help her navigate the application process or support her goals financially. With scholarship funds and the guidance of faculty and administration members, she was able to navigate campus life, excel academically and earn her degree.

“Without AU’s support, I would not have been able to finish my degree,” Brenda said. She plans to put that degree to good use, with hopes of doing field work and research in Central America to help at-risk citizens of the Northern triangle combat gang violence.

“AU has not only changed my life, but my family’s,” Brenda said. “They are relieved that I, a daughter of immigrants, was able to make it in this country. This new achievement has proven to my younger sister that she can achieve a degree as well.”

For students who are the first in their families to attend college, AU’s commitment to being a “First-gen Forward Institution” signals a warm welcome and an appreciation of their contribution to the AU community. By providing resources first-gen students need, Change Can't Wait gives them the foundation for success. 

Learn more about the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.