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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Five University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students will be recognized in the second annual First-Generation Awards.

The UI First-Generation Task Force established the awards to recognize first-generation student achievements as well as the outstanding advocacy and support efforts of faculty and staff.

At Iowa, a first-generation student is a student who does not have a parent or legal guardian who completed a four-year degree. Almost 25% of UI undergraduates identify as first-generation.

This year’s student achievement award winners are Michael Aragon-Jacques, Ruth Kahssai, and Adam Lorenzana. Faculty/staff winners are Dana Thomann and Cody Pritchard.

A virtual awards ceremony will take place at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, and coinciding with the UI’s participation in the National First-Generation College Celebration.

This year’s keynote address will be given by Shaun Vecera, who identifies as a first-generation college student and is a professor and Herman J. and Eileen S. Schmidt Chair in Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Those planning to attend the awards ceremony should register before the event. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information to join the Zoom session.

First Generation Student Achievement

Michael Aragon-Jacques

michael aragon-jacques

A native of West Liberty, Iowa, Aragon-Jacques is a proud first-generation college student who has been an Iowa Edge participant and peer leader during his time at the UI. Aragon-Jacques led two Hawkeye Service Break trips, including one sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Enrichment.

As an active member of the university community, Aragon-Jacques is aware of his visibility as a first-generation student and the impact it has on empowering other first-generation students to get involved. He always strives to be a role model for others.

Ruth Kahssai


Born and raised in Carol Stream, Illinois, Kahssai is a fourth-year undergraduate student double-majoring in social justice and social work with a minor in psychology. Kahssai is the first in her family to attend college and was overwhelmed upon her arrival to campus with institutional challenges relating to her identities as a young black women and first-generation student. Kahssai soon found a passion for social justice and community-building, which led her on a path toward academic and extracurricular activities to better campus for students like herself. Kahssai began with Campus Activities Board, serving in administrative leadership and starting the Inclusion Task Force.

Kahssai was involved in student government and worked initiatives such as Healing Spaces and chaired the third annual I’m the First first-generation summit. Additionally, Kahssai worked as a resident assistant to the Political Matters Living Learning Community; traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, for Alternative Spring Break to focus on racial justice; and volunteered in the Women’s Resource Action Center, Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and Domestic Violence Intervention Program. In spring 2019, Kahssai was awarded the 2020 Kristen K. Lippke Memorial Scholarship through the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies and Social Justice program. Kahssai now works with Maria Bruno in the Division of Student Life on belonging and inclusion initiatives. Kahssai’s goal since childhood has been to attend college, and she is thankful to be able to achieve this goal in May 2021.

Adam Lorenzana

adam lorenzana

A native of Long Island, New York, Lorenzana is a third-year law student in the University of Iowa College of Law. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. As an undergraduate, Lorenzana was elected student body vice president, and at Iowa Law he was elected president of the Student Bar Association.

Born to immigrant parents, Lorenzana is a first-generation college graduate and law student. In his free time, he enjoys cycling, cooking, and watching the New York Mets.

Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy

Dana Thomann

dana thomann

Thomann grew up on a family farm near Riverside, Iowa, with a high school graduating class of 40. She is a first-generation graduate (’05) of the UI. After graduation, she completed a two-year commitment with Teach For America on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. In 2007, Thomann returned to the UI where she was employed by the Center For Diversity and Enrichment’s TRIO Student Support Services (TRIO SSS) programs as a coordinator of academic services and, later, directed the Upward Bound Project, securing grants to continue the program on the UI campus. She currently works as a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric.

Passionate about educational equity, Thomann partners with UI Academic Support and Retention to embed peer tutors in rhetoric classrooms; called Success in Rhetoric, the program is intended to assist all rhetoric students in their pursuit of academic success. Thomann also holds an MFA in creative writing and environment from Iowa State University. She is working on a collection of linked short stories that focuses on the 1980s farm debt crisis.

Cody Pritchard

cody prichard

Pritchard joined the University of Iowa in November 2015 as a student success coach and tutor coordinator for TRIO SSS, where he now serves as the project director. Pritchard is a proud first-generation college graduate, having earned his BSEd in mathematics from Emporia State University (Kansas) in 2011 and his MSEd in higher education administration in 2013 from the University of Kansas.

Before joining the UI, Pritchard worked in fraternity and sorority life. He credits his undergraduate involvement, including being a founding member of his fraternity chapter, as his introduction to working in higher education, and his time as a tutor and peer mentor for the TRIO SSS program at Emporia State that led him to his current position. Pritchard’s passion of first-generation student success extends beyond TRIO SSS and includes work with the 1stGen@Iowa Implementation Team, First-Generation Task Force, and others.