First-Generation Initiative

Second annual First-Generation Graduation Celebration a success during Celebration of Excellence Weekend

Co-hosted by the First-Generation Association and the First-Generation Initiative, the second annual First-Generation Graduation Celebration was a success on Sunday, April 30, in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom.

This year’s celebration spotlighted the 75 first-generation students graduating in May and August of 2023. The 75 students will be collectively awarded an estimated 142 degrees.

Eighteen graduating students were presented with a first-generation graduation stole, a commemorative Class of 2023 tumbler, and a handwritten letter from a First-Gen Proud Faculty or Staff Ally.

Get to know the 18 graduating students who were joined by their family and friends at this year’s ceremony:

Graduation stoles have long been worn by graduates during commencement ceremonies as a symbol of personal and academic achievement. At SMU, we are proud to provide stoles to all of our first-generation graduating students to help them mark the significant accomplishment of reaching graduation day.

First-generation students often face unique challenges, such as navigating the college or university system, balancing academic demands with work and family responsibilities, and overcoming financial difficulties.

Class of 2023 first-generation students posing for a photo in their graduation stoles.

Wearing a stole that says first-generation during graduation is a way to recognize and honor these challenges and to show pride in being the first in one’s family to achieve this level of education. It is also a way to inspire and encourage future generations to pursue higher education.

This blog post will be updated in two weeks to include additional photos from the ceremony. For information on the First-Generation Initiative, please email

Hilltop Scholars Student Academic Engagement & Success University Advising Center

Two SAES team members were recognized with The “M” Award at the 2023 Hilltop Excellence Awards

Two Student Academic Engagement and Success (SAES) team members were honored with The “M” Award at the 2023 Hilltop Excellence Awards on Friday, April 28.

Dr. Caitlin Anderson, Director of the Hilltop Scholars Program and Senior Lecturer of Applied Physiology and Wellness, and Ellen Richmond, Director of the University Advising Center, were recognized with the highest recognition on the Hilltop.

The “M” Award is the highest recognition bestowed upon students, faculty, staff, and administrators on the SMU Campus. The recipients’ efforts have been continuous during their years at the University and are not limited to a narrow vested interest. The “M” Award honorees inspire others, giving unselfishly of their time and talents to make the University, and indeed the world, a better place.

Please join us in congratulating our stellar SEAS and SMU colleagues!

Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies Student Academic Engagement & Success Student Academic Success Programs University Advising Center

DASS Ads Study Skills Videos

Disability Accommodation and Success Strategies has added a new short video study skills series to its website: check out the “Body Doubling”!

Office of General Education

Approved meeting minutes from the Council on General Education on April 21, 2023

The Council on General Education met on April 21, 2023. The meeting minutes for March 31, 2023 were approved at this meeting. Below is the agenda, and the meeting minutes have now been posted on the General Education website.

  1. Approval of Agenda for the April 21, 2023 Council on General Education meeting.
  2. Approval of Minutes for the March 31, 2023 Council on General Education meeting.
  3. Previously Reviewed Proposals
    1. ITAL 2302-Breadth/CA
    2. WL 3311-Breadth/TAS, PREX/HD, PREX/GPS
    3. RUSS 3341-PREX/CIE, PREX/HD
    4. ADV 2343-PREX/GPS, PREX/HD
    5. ANTH 3314-PREX/HD
  4. New Proposal
    1. ADV 4399-PREX/OC
    2. ADV 3303-PREX/QA
    3. FILM 3352-Breadth/HC
    4. HIST 3365- Breadth/HC
    5. HIST 4388-Breadth/HC
    6. PLSC 4340-Breadth/SBS
    7. ENGL 2315-Breadth/LAI
    8. MATH 1340-FND/QR
  5. Activity Proposal
    1. Board Fellows Program- PREX/CE
  6. Office of General Education Updates

Please contact the Office of General Education for questions or proposal development support.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Catch up on NCUR and Research Week

The last few weeks have been busy in the world of Undergraduate Research! Read recent posts from the Office of Engaged Learning about:

Our trip to NCUR with eight undergraduate researchers and creative artists

Reactions and tips from the winners of this year’s Undergraduate Poster Session

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Our trip to NCUR

I had the pleasure of taking eight students to present their research and creative work at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research 2023. We traveled to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where we joined about 3500 students, faculty, and staff (along with UWEC’s 1000 volunteers!) for an exciting conference.

I asked our students for their thoughts on the experience:

The NCUR experience

Shriya Siddhartha with her poster
Shriya Siddhartha with her poster

Shriya Siddhartha ’26: Attending NCUR was a wonderful opportunity and the experience of a lifetime. It was such a pleasure to present the results of my research to a wider audience. I enjoyed connecting with student researchers from around the world and learning about the incredible work being conducted at their respective institutes.

Vivian Thai with her poster
Vivian Thai with her poster

Vivian Thai ’25: NCUR was an incredible opportunity to network with undergraduates and professors and I’m so glad I attended NCUR for my first poster presentation. My favorite aspect was connecting with other passionate students and observing the most talented presentations I have ever seen.

Regina Nguyen ’24: When my abstract was accepted to NCUR 2023, I knew I had been given the opportunity to present the project that made me passionate about research. Indeed, I was able to share my work in a low-pressure, supportive environment.

Jonathan Thomas with his poster
Jonathan Thomas with his poster

Jonathan Thomas ’25: NCUR was such an enriching experience for me as an undergraduate researcher. Not only did I get the chance to meet with exceptional researchers from a variety of disciplines from different parts of the globe, but I also got a glimpse into the future of my own field (Civil Engineering) through the groundbreaking work being presented.

Alexandra Savu introducing her film
Alexandra Savu introducing her film

Alexandra Savu ’23: What I loved the most about NCUR is the environment I got immersed in: being surrounded by ambitious people of my age in whose you can see a burning passion for the topics they are presenting and have researched on brought me more joy and thirst for life.

Making connections

Regina Nguyen and Odran Fitzgerald after their presentation
Regina Nguyen and Odran Fitzgerald after their presentation

Odran Fitzgerald ’24: My favorite part about going out to NCUR was meeting different people from around the country that had similar interests as my specific research but approached similar problems from different angles. It was really nice also to see environmental research, and people who were passionate about environmental research in other areas than environmental science and environmental engineering such as social science and biology.

Sandhya Srinivasa with her poster
Sandhya Srinivasa with her poster

Sandhya Srinivasa ’23: One of my favorite aspects of NCUR is learning about other individuals’ unique research areas and being able to share mine with them. In particular, in the poster sessions, you can create that 1-to-1 connection with the presenter and learn not only about their topic but about them as well. NCUR is a great first conference to go to because it fosters a community where everyone listens out of curiosity and genuinely wants to uplift each other!

Alexandra: I loved meeting people who care about the details of their work, and who also cared about other people’s projects. I felt heard and important during my presentation as I felt that everyone in the room had a good reason to be there: to fully engage in the movie in front of them. And I am sure all other presenters felt the same.

Mace Cowart presenting an excerpt of his play LINO

Jonathan: One of my favorite projects was from a researcher from the American University in Cairo, who was looking into pavements that could generate electricity through the kinetic energy of people walking on it. Talking with her over how she got into research and her research methodology gave me insight into how other engineers performed research and gave me a chance to “nerd out” with someone who was also deeply interested in novel construction methods.

Regina: I didn’t expect that I would make so many fast friendships formed from mutual excitement for each other’s work regardless of discipline and how rich those would make my experience in Eau Claire. Undeniably. my NCUR connections have made me more excited for a research career and I couldn’t recommend it more.

Any advice for future NCUR presenters?

Vivian: For other undergraduates attending their first conference, I would give the advice to work hard and prepare accordingly, but don’t stress out too much about it. Everyone at the conference is there to learn more about your work and you’re going to have so much fun.

Alexandra: Some advice I would give to new presenters is to have a clear schedule of what presentations they want to attend and to let themselves speak freely during their big moment, without too much “mirror readings”.

Jonathan: My biggest piece of advice to researchers who are planning to go to a large conference like NCUR is that they should try and connect with as many people as possible. It’s such a rare occurrence to be in a room with so many of the brightest undergrads in the world, and it would be a shame to leave without really getting to know anyone. Your network is your net worth as they say, and that’s no different in research.

SMU group on a UWEC deck

Group picture at the airport
Going home!
First-Generation Initiative

First Generation Initiative’s new Instagram takeovers

Are you ready to share your SMU experience with the world? The First-Generation Initiative is excited to announce that we’re looking for enthusiastic first-generation students, faculty, and staff to participate in an Instagram takeover.

Students can showcase their student events, activities, and campus life! Faculty and staff can reflect on their own first-generation experience and offer tips for success.

It’s an excellent opportunity for our first-generation community to share your unique perspective, connect with a broader audience, and make your mark on our community’s social media.

Why should you participate in an Instagram takeover?

Share Your Story: This is your chance to highlight your experiences as a first-generation student, faculty, or staff member. Whether you’re a student involved in clubs, sports, or other activities, an Instagram takeover allows you to showcase your involvement, passion, and pride for our university. Faculty and staff can offer reflections to normalize the first-generation college experience. Everyone’s story matters – and we’re here for it.

Connect with Your Peers and Students: By taking over our Instagram account, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with students. It’s a chance to build a sense of community and foster meaningful connections on the Hilltop.

Be Creative and Have Fun: An Instagram takeover is a chance to unleash your creativity and have fun! You can experiment with different types of content, such as photos, stories, videos, polls, and more. You can also share your thoughts, insights, and perspectives on various topics related to your university experience. Faculty and staff, not sure what to do? We are here to help if you want to try out a new social media platform.

Contribute to FGI’s Social Media: By participating in an Instagram takeover, you’ll be contributing to your FGI’s social media presence and helping to showcase the vibrant and dynamic campus life. Your content can inspire and engage prospective students, alumni, and the broader community.

If you’re interested in participating in an Instagram takeover, here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Follow us on Instagram: Ensure you’re following our FGI official Instagram @smu1stgen account to stay updated on the latest news and announcements.
  2. Submit a request to take over Instagram via our webform

We will get in touch with you! We can’t wait to see the incredible content you’ll create and share with the SMU community and beyond.

Student Academic Engagement & Success

HighPoint Degree Planner Undergraduate Survey

By Silvia Vazquez

HighPoint Degree Planner was rolled out earlier this semester as a tool for SMU undergraduates to plan their track toward graduation. To collect feedback on this new software, students are being asked to complete a short survey. The survey will provide valuable insight into students’ perspectives on HighPoint Degree Planner, including the platform’s ease of use, helpful features, and areas for improvement.

The survey is open from Monday, April 10th, to Tuesday, April 25th. Students who respond will be entered into a raffle to win one of ten gift cards.

Faculty and staff are encouraged to share the survey link below with their undergraduate student groups.

Office of General Education SMU in Four Student Academic Engagement & Success University Advising Center

Degree Planner after-action report and advisor incentives announced

Degree Planner was introduced to students at the end of the Fall 2022 semester as a tool that supports the SMU in Four – SMU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) –SMU’s comprehensive approach to improving retention and four-year graduation rates. 

The Degree Planner in the my.SMU Student Dashboard is a powerful tool that can provide students with a personalized, pre-populated degree plan to help them on their journey to graduation. This degree path provides a sequence of courses that will fulfill degree requirements and can be adjusted regularly to fit their future plans. This differs from the Degree Progress Report (DPR), the authoritative source for graduation requirements. 

Initial adoption efforts focused on the 5,348 Common Curriculum students who matriculated in the fall 2020 semester or after (213 Spring 2023 graduating seniors were excluded). Students received outreach on Degree Planner’s purpose, support with completion, and notification of their progress in a variety of ways: 

  • 1,201 students completed their Degree Planner for all remaining terms.  
  • 1,484 students completed their Degree Planner for the Fall 2023 semester. 
  • 8 Degree Planner Support sessions were held (4 in Caruth, 2 in Hughes Trigg, 1 in Meadows, and 1 Zoom Session)  
  • 7 Blog posts were written introducing Degree Planner, sharing progress, announcing raffle winners (on 2/2/23, 2/13/23, & 3/16/23 ), and general information on Degree Planner  
  • 7 Student emails were sent   
  • 130 Winners were selected in raffles to win prizes for completion of Degree Planner.  
  • To-do tasks were added to students’ My.SMU accounts. These to-do tasks were updated and removed weekly. 

We want to reward the following advisors with $100 Amazon gift cards for having the highest number of advisee completions University-wide: 

  • Dorie Beitchman 
  • Misti Compton 
  • Maria Crouch 
  • Christopher Logan 
  • Jennifer Malone 
  • Barbara Morhle 
  • Jeanene Renfro 
  • Caroline Rydquist 
  • Alyssa Wong 

Special Acknowledgement is also given to Janet Stephens and Alyssa Wong for their efforts in encouraging student completion and advertising our student support sessions.  

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Poster Session 2023: Let’s Hear from the Winners!

by Hannah Green ’26

Previously we had the chance to ask the winners of this year’s poster session some questions about their participation, here is what they had to say: 

1. Can you give us a layman’s terms explanation of your project?  


Saifiyah Zaki ’24 (1st place)

“In this project, I investigated the relationship between chronic (trait) loneliness and momentary (state) loneliness in conjunction with other related variables such as social anxiety and depression. Findings support the “differential reactivity hypothesis” of loneliness, which states that chronically lonely individuals respond differently to the social information in their environment than non-lonely individuals. These findings have important implications for the how we conceptualize, study, and treat loneliness in the future.” 


Tyler McCall ’23 (2nd place)

“Constrained choices, or justices for whom some political or non-legal factor limited the size of the selection pool they were drawn from, vote differently than “first picks.” I found that when presidents are constrained in their selection pool when nominating justices, those justices do indeed vote more moderately than when the choice is unconstrained.”


Joshua Ange ’25 (3rd place)

“Light from 14 billion years ago (called the “Cosmic Microwave Background”) gives us clues into what the early universe was like, but often, because of the massive objects in space (like galaxies and galaxy clusters), it becomes warped and distorted on its way to us. We used a “delensing” procedure to reverse the distortion on simulated data to see if we could make more precise inferences about the universe (especially for extensions of our current model of the universe). We found that we could improve the precision of inferences up to the range of 20%-30%, which will be key in deriving as much information as possible from future measurements!”

2. How long have you worked on this project? 


“I have been working on this project for the entire school year.” 


“I have been working on this project for about 9 months now. Last May, I received a research fellowship from the Tower Center to pursue this project. I spent first six or seven months reading through all the cases I used in my study to collect the raw data, and I am now in the “polishing and presenting” stage.”  


“I’ve been working on this project since the beginning of the Fall semester through the Hamilton Scholarship.” 

3. How did you prepare, design, and print your poster? 


“Under the guidance of my faculty advisor and graduate student mentor, I developed a draft of short-form, easily digestible text, which I then tried to creatively fit into a “landscape” style design for the poster. I was able to print the poster through the psychology department here on campus.” 


“I designed my poster using Canva. Being a business major as well as political science, I have had cause to design many slide decks and flyers throughout my time at SMU, and the many templates and design features available in Canva make creating a professional and visually aesthetic poster very easy. I had it printed through SMU’s copy central; they are absolutely amazing, and had my poster ready in only one day!” 


“I worked on my poster mostly during the week before and the week of Spring Break. The design, itself, didn’t take too long (the information and graphs weren’t difficult to add), but I spent a long time figuring out the best way to explain my material. I know these aren’t everyday concepts people interact with, so it took some time to know what information to omit, how to simplify the information I do include, and how to make a clear throughline evident while still preserving the meaning of the research. It was absolutely a challenge, but I’m really happy with where it ended up!”

4. What was your favorite part about presenting your poster? 


“Presenting my poster was a thrilling experience, and my favorite part was the opportunity to share my research and ideas with fellow researchers and scholars. As an undergraduate student, it was a unique chance to showcase my work to an audience and engage in stimulating discussions about my research with peers who have diverse perspectives and expertise. I was also incredibly grateful to receive recognition for my hard work and dedication, particularly as I stood among my highly talented peers from different disciplines being recognized for their incredible work as well.” 


“The most rewarding part of presenting my poster was getting to share my excitement with other academics that were interested in my topic. I am incredibly passionate about political science, especially Supreme Court studies, and it’s not every day that I get to just share my knowledge with others who share a similar interest.” 


“I really loved presenting to people in STEM fields other than physics. It meant they had no (or limited) background with the concepts I was dealing with, but still dealt with technical and analytical tools in their own work. It meant I had to explain concepts in a way that was both precise and accessible, and it meant they had incredibly insightful questions! It was really a joy to present to all the chemists, mathematicians, etc. that came by.”  

5. Any tips for future presenters? 


“To future presenters, my advice would be to start early and give yourself enough time to prepare your poster and practice your presentation. It is essential to communicate your research in a clear and concise manner, so it helps to practice explaining your work to others outside of your discipline. I would also recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to engage with peers both in and outside of the field of your research, as their feedback can help you improve your delivery and anticipate potential questions.”    


“Get started early and attend the workshops! I had never designed a research poster before this experience, and I felt incredibly lost when I began working on my poster. The workshops that Dr. Neal offered gave me very strong guidance and helped me focus my ideas into the final product. Once I learned that creativity counted with these sorts of posters and not just raw data, my process was completely different than it would have been had I not sought help.”    


“I think practicing your presentation is the most important part. Even if you understand your research, it’s a completely different game to try and explain what you’re doing to people who are in completely different fields. Try figuring out how to explain your work at different levels, so you’re ready for anyone who comes by!”