ECenter's Deshpande Pre-Conference - A Focus on FirstGen

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Deshpande Pre-Conference
In June of this year, the Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center hosted a free FirstGen pre-conference event before the start of the annual Deshpande Symposium at UMass Lowell. The Deshpande Symposium is a gathering of like-minded practitioners with a focus on accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship across the university and college environment. The pre-conference was free and open to all universities who share an interest in and passion for the engagement of first-generation college students (FirstGen) in entrepreneurial activities.  

The U.S. Department of Education reports nearly a third of undergraduate students are FirstGen. FirstGen is generally defined as the first person in a family to graduate with a four-year bachelor degree but even that definition is not universally agreed-upon. These students often enter college at a significant disadvantage and research shows that meaningful learning and engagement in high-impact experiences like entrepreneurship deliver positive, lasting effects for life. The event, which was supported by UNH’s I-Corps grant on inclusive entrepreneurship and in collaboration with UMASS-Lowell, was designed to spark a community of practice around this important issue. 

The focus of the pre-conference was on the sharing of best practices, idea generation, recent studies, and data collection surrounding FirstGen issues and how engagement in entrepreneurship can help impact success. The Deshpande Symposium attracts hundreds of attendees from institutions across the country, and by hosting this event just prior to the Symposium, we were able to leverage a wider group of universities to address FirstGen challenges and disseminate information more efficiently.

The pre-conference agenda included a discussion about the current research around links to entrepreneurship and FirstGen student educational success, a panel of FirstGen student entrepreneurs, and a brainstorming session where attendees discussed their successes and failures engaging students on their own campuses and tossed around new ideas for outreach and activities. While all the discussion and content was valuable, it was especially enlightening to hear from the panel of FirstGen entrepreneurs who could share real life insight into their successes, challenges, and needs, and talk about what engagement tactics work best for them. 

We were encouraged by the turnout and the positive discussion that came out of the inaugural FristGen pre-conference. We hope to hold a similar conference at next year’s Symposium to keep the conversation moving forward.

Heather MacNeill
Program Manager, ECenter