Utah Valley University (UVU) is marking National First-Generation College Celebration Day on Nov. 8 with an announcement of a major fundraising milestone and an acknowledgment of the thousands of Utahns who have been the first in their families to attend college.
Nearly one-third of UVU students (9,933 this year) are first-generation. Over the past five years, UVU has awarded diplomas or certificates to 17,303 first-generation students.
When President Astrid S. Tuminez arrived at UVU five years ago, she launched a campaign to raise $15 million by 2023, supporting scholarships and programs for first-generation students, including UVU’s First-Generation Initiative. Today, the university is excited to announce that it has completed that goal.
President Tuminez, a first-generation student herself, said, “At UVU, we believe in human potential, and we have a legacy of welcoming and embracing first-gen students. We know that a college education will benefit these students economically but also make them healthier, happier, more engaged members of our community.”
According to Kyle Reyes, vice president of Institutional Advancement and CEO of the UVU Foundation, the first-generation campaign received a significant lift when four donors stepped forward. Each donor contributed $1 million — Blake and Sandy Modersitzki, Brian and Louise Murphy, Dan and Peggy Campbell, and a fourth donor who chooses to remain anonymous. While the target has been met, Reyes said that UVU will continue raising funds for first-generation students and welcomes donations from alumni and the community.
“I want to thank all of our donors and the first-generation board members who have worked tirelessly on this campaign,” Reyes said.
Brian and Louise Murphy explained why their family chose to support the first-generation campaign, stating, “We felt it could have tremendous impact on the lives of these deserving students. Building a family tradition of education transforms the lives of not only these individuals but their families and generations to come.”
“These generous donations from the community, including from our own employees, will unlock the door of higher education for dozens of students through scholarships and various campus programs that support first-gen students,” President Tuminez said. “Today, UVU salutes our first-gen students — past and president — who have become pioneers in their families by deciding to gain a college education. I am inspired by them and love to hear their stories of pure grit, determination, and courage.”
One of those stories is that of Holli Saperstein. Thirty years ago, she was a single mom with a GED and four young kids living in American Fork. When she drove past Utah Valley State College, now UVU, one day, she realized she wanted a different future for her family — one that didn’t include subsisting on government assistance programs. “I have to figure out how to get back to school,” she told herself.
After meeting with a UVSC advisor, she enrolled at the college, selling her living room furniture to pay for the first semester’s tuition. “It was tough,” Saperstein said, but she persisted. She was later awarded a Presidential Scholarship and completed her associate degree in less than three years.
“[College] really changed my life,” Saperstein said. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and then an MBA at other universities. Her career has included stints at three Fortune 500 companies and a role at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). She is now the executive director of a nonprofit in Wilmington, North Carolina, and is a working actress whose credits include the TV show “Stranger Things.”
Three of her children have graduated from college, with her fourth currently finishing a degree. Her two oldest grandsons are enrolled in college, and all of her younger siblings, inspired by her example, went to college. Her decision to attend college has resulted in a “big change in our trajectory as a family.”
The first gen initiative is part of EverGREEN, the comprehensive fundraising campaign for Utah Valley University with a goal to advance, expand, and increase the impact of a degree from the UVU on the world. The $350 million inaugural comprehensive campaign will impact every aspect of the campus from engineering to athletics and from the arts to automotive. The success of EverGREEN will amplify and provide transformational educational experiences for current and future generations of UVU students. Learn more at uvu.edu/evergreen.
About Utah Valley University
At Utah Valley University, we believe everyone deserves the transforming benefits of high-quality education — and it needs to be affordable, accessible, and flexible. With opportunities to earn everything from certificates to master’s degrees, our students succeed by gaining real-world experience and developing career-ready skills. We continue to invite people to come as they are — and leave ready and prepared to make a difference in the world.
For more information, visit UVU’s Newsroom website for fact sheets, maps, leadership bios, history, photos, b-roll, filming policies, and a list of interview-ready faculty experts at https://www.uvu.edu/newsroom/#.
First-Generation Student Stories: