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Kean University

Kean First-Generation Students and Alumni Climb Higher

Kean University celebrated the academic accomplishments of high-achieving, first-generation college students, inducting 26 Kean students and others into a new chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha, a national honor society for first-gen students.

A student receives his Tri-Alpha pin.

Eighteen students, seven employees and an alumna were welcomed into the Iota Gamma Chapter of Kean University at the inaugural induction ceremony held Wednesday, April 17 at Liberty Hall Academic Center. The ceremony was a family affair, with inductees receiving pins and certificates from their parents, spouses and children.

“This chapter of Tri-Alpha creates a supportive community and offers leadership opportunities for students whose families lack experience in higher education, and who may feel isolated when navigating the college landscape,” said Marvin Adames, Esq., assistant vice president for student retention and dean of students, who is also a first-gen college graduate. “It promotes academic excellence, fosters a sense of belonging, and provides avenues for personal and professional growth.”

Undergraduate students must have a 3.2 cumulative GPA to be considered for induction, and graduate students must have a 3.5 cumulative GPA. The students’ leadership qualities were also factored into their selection.

With 46% of students self-identifying as first generation, Kean far exceeds the average of 33% at other institutions around the country. Kean, a First-Gen Forward Institution since 2021, has a number of programs to support students who are first in their families to attend college.

Frederich Ureña, a junior criminal justice inductee from Perth Amboy, arrived in the United States in 2021 from the Dominican Republic. He credits programs like Supera, which allows Kean students to learn English while earning credits, as being a big part of his success.

“The Tri-Alpha ceremony meant a lot to me since it recognizes the effort made by a first-generation student to break a barrier that his family has not yet been able to, due to various circumstances,” Ureña said. “First-generation students often bring unique perspectives and strengths to their studies, such as resilience, determination and resourcefulness.

Senior Vice President for Student Success Katherine Gallagher, JD, also a first-generation college graduate, spoke at the ceremony. She called it a “full circle moment,” recalling how she was “terrified of being ‘found out’” in college.

“When I was an undergraduate, we didn't talk about being first generation. We didn't name it, let alone celebrate it,” she said. “If I could go back, I would tell my younger self to stop hiding and be proud.”

Gallagher noted that each of the inductees is beating the odds. She said statistics show 70% of adults with one parent who earned a bachelor’s degree also graduated from college. For students who did not have a college graduate as a parent, that number stands at 26%.

“The same qualities that got you here – tenacity, determination, the ability to blaze your own trail – will serve you well no matter what path you take,” she said.

Communication studies graduate student Amani Saleem ’02 of Newark delivered the student keynote address. She said it was a significant moment for all inductees.

“For me, being inducted into Tri-Alpha is more than just academic recognition; it symbolizes a culmination of years of dedication and reaffirms my commitment to scholarly pursuits,” Saleem said.

Joseph Coste, a sophomore finance student from Irvington, is another inductee from the Dominican Republic. He came to the United States at the age of 7. As a first-gen student, he said he has to figure out a lot by himself.

“The Tri-Alpha induction was a great experience for me,” Coste said. “Being surrounded by other first-gen students made me feel like I was part of something much bigger than myself, a community that will succeed together. It also motivated me to work even harder in order to motivate those who will come after me.”

For more information on the Tri-Alpha honor society or Kean’s First Generation Student Initiatives program, contact Viviana Zambrano, director of the Office of Student Retention and Educational Innovation at