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As a first-generation college student, Anya Kelley said in a way she feels like a “trailblazer” for her family.

“Neither of my parents went to college, I’m the first of our little family to go,” said the junior multimedia journalism major from Appleton. “I would say it’s scary but it’s also exciting and I’m proud of myself for getting to this point.”

Kelley was one of nearly 40 trailblazers from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who gathered Tuesday night for the Tri-Alpha First-Generation College National Honors Society induction ceremony at the Culver Family Welcome Center.

The event is part of UW Oshkosh programming for National First-Generation College Celebration Week. More than 40% of UW Oshkosh students are first-generation—meaning their parents or guardians did not complete a bachelor’s degree.

Naomi Juarez Cruz, senior nursing major from Elkhorn, was in attendance not because she was being inducted, but as one of the already-inducted members who will graduate in December.

“Honestly, I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish being a first-generation student because I know my parents weren’t able to finish their education like they wanted to,” said Juarez Cruz, who had her parents, sister and boyfriend along to celebrate her success. “Being the first one in my family to go to college and be able to graduate is definitely an accomplishment and I’m very happy.”

Tri-Alpha—aka Alpha Alpha Alpha—is a National Honor Society that celebrates first-generation college students’ success. UWO is home to the Zeta Theta chapter of Tri-Alpha and this fall class includes 38 undergraduate students, one graduate student and one honorary inductee. To qualify for the honor society, a student needs to have 30 credits and at least a 3.2 GPA.

Eric Zukaitis made the trip from Sheboygan to celebrate the induction of his daughter, sophomore medical imaging major Cianna Zukaitis, into Tri-Alpha. Cianna’s grandmother, Tammy Zukaitis, also came along.

Tammy said she’s always shown up to support Cianna when she’s won awards or performed in school concerts and Tuesday night was no different.

Eric said they came to show his daughter how proud they are of her. He pursued a bachelor’s degree, he said, but didn’t finish. The future for Cianna looks a little different.

“She’s the first one that we’re betting our money on that she is going to finish,” he said with a smile.

The gathering also included recognition of 16 students who will graduate in December. Four of those students were previously inducted into Tri-Alpha. Belynda Pinknston, McNair program coordinator at UWO, also was an honorary Tri-Alpha inductee.

Undergraduate inductees:

  • Adelina Alimi, sophomore from Wisconsin Rapids studying at the Fox Cities campus
  • Kaleigh Baxter, senior nursing major from Walworth
  • Sierra Elizabeth Bender, senior nursing major from New Holstein
  • Aarilyn Boire, junior pre-nursing major from Appleton
  • Shaun Cummings, sophomore pre-business major from Reedsburg
  • Devlin Delegard, sophomore from Fond du Lac studying at the Fond du Lac campus
  • Justyce Eggert, senior nursing major from Appleton
  • Chase Heurlin, senior business management major from Oconto
  • Lauryn Juedes, junior elementary and middle school education major from Omro
  • Samantha Kappes, a senior nursing major from Milwaukee
  • Anya Kelley, junior multimedia journalism major from Appleton
  • Ines Alejandra Kenney, senior nursing major from Coon Rapids, Minnesota
  • Zachary Kestell, junior pre-business major from Kaukauna
  • Tracy Lynn Kirchberger, senior criminal justice major from Menomonee Falls
  • Rebecca Kohl, senior social work major from Appleton
  • Brianna Krahn, senior business management major from Fond du Lac
  • Grace Kunstman, senior liberal studies major from Appleton
  • Dakota Morin, sophomore public relations major from Oshkosh
  • Brooke Marie Mullen, sophomore political science major from Seymour
  • Rita Chiamaka Nwaogaraku, sophomore pre-nursing major from Nigeria
  • Cole Osness, junior biomedical science major from Merrill
  • Kayla Oswald, sophomore pre-social work major from Slinger
  • Alina Reithofer, sophomore psychology major from New Holstein
  • Ella Rider, sophomore computer science major from Appleton
  • Kimberly Paige Riegel, junior criminal justice major from Cameron
  • Adamaris Rodriguez, junior middle and high school social science education major from Oshkosh
  • Wyatt Seibel, sophomore physical education major from Cochrane
  • Hailey Tanem, sophomore from Fond du Lac studying at the Fond du Lac campus
  • Jacob Thuecks, junior liberal studies major from Fond du Lac
  • Dominika Tkaczyk, senior liberal studies major from Naperville, Illinois
  • Ivonne Valencia, senior nursing major from Beaver Dam
  • Marysa Van Gheem, sophomore biomedical science major from De Pere
  • Sebastian Koobmeej-Vang, senior radio TV film major from Fond du Lac
  • Brennan A. Wendt, junior multimedia journalism major from Greenville
  • Gary Yang, senior electrical engineering technology major from Sheboygan
  • Pangnra Yang, sophomore pre-nursing major from Menomonee Falls
  • Cianna Zukaitis, sophomore medical imaging major from Fredonia

Members graduating in December:

  • Sheena Arndt, senior leadership and organizational studies major from Hortonville
  • Gillian Bellman, senior psychology major from Oshkosh
  • Brittany Dupree, senior biology major from Fond du Lac
  • Yanet Fernandez, senior mathematics major from Oshkosh
  • Katie Hanson, senior biology major from Plymouth
  • Sonia Howen, senior anthropology major from Oshkosh
  • Emma Hurst, senior English education major from Menasha
  • Amber Huser, senior nursing major from Prairie du Chien
  • Jarrius James, educational leadership and policy graduate student from Appleton
  • Sarah Kleinschmidt, senior environmental studies and geology major from Neenah
  • Naomi Juarez Cruz, senior nursing major from Elkhorn
  • Jocelyn Tapia, senior English language education major from Oshkosh

Graduate inductee:

  • Nicole Noonan, business administration graduate student from Appleton

Honorary inductee:

  • Belynda Pinkston, UW Oshkosh McNair program coordinator

National First-Generation College Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 8, commemorating the signing of the Higher Education Act in 1965. The act created federal financial aid programs—including the federal TRIO programs—and made investments in colleges and universities.

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