Six Hawkeyes were recognized at the First-Generation Student Awards and Recognition Ceremony on Nov. 10 as part of the weeklong National First-Generation College Celebration.
The UI First-Generation Task Force established the awards to recognize first-gen student achievements as well as the outstanding advocacy and support efforts of faculty and staff.
Held each year on Nov. 8 to commemorate the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the National First-Generation College Celebration encourages colleges and universities across the country to celebrate the successes of the institution’s first-generation students. The UI celebrates all week long.
First-gen students at Iowa
- About 20% of UI undergrads identify as first-gen students
- 21% of new first-year students in the class of 2026 identify as first-gen (about 1,060 students)
Student recipients are Selveyah Gamblin and Isaac Sarinana. Faculty and staff recipients are Julie Claus, Jan Wessel, Joseph Yockey, and Lorie Schweer.
First-Generation Student Achievement Award
The First-Generation Student Achievement Award honors one first-gen undergraduate student and one graduate or professional first-gen college student who has pursued and met ambitious goals, demonstrated commitment to academic excellence, and created pathways for/inspired other first-generation students to also excel at the University of Iowa.
Selveyah Gamblin is a fourth-year undergraduate student from Peosta, Iowa, majoring in political science with minors in public policy and theatre arts. Originally from Chicago, Gamblin struggled to find her footing as a Black woman in a new environment, so she worked to be academically active and an advocate for other marginalized communities. At Iowa, Gamblin became involved in leadership through Undergraduate Student Government and advocated on behalf of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus. After finding her passion for advocacy and promoting inclusive initiatives, she began participating in many advisory roles and committees for the Dean of Students, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the UI Honors Program. In spring 2022, Gamblin was awarded the 2022 Wynonna G. Hubbard Scholarship through the Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women. She has been awarded several Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates Fellowships from 2021-22. Upon graduation, Gamblin plans to pursue her passion for political and legal advocacy and continue to provide representation to marginalized voices. She says she is grateful for the sacrifices her friends and family have made to ensure she is the first of her family to graduate from college and hopes to continue uplifting other students to succeed.
Isaac Sarinana is a second-year law student in the UI College of Law. He grew up in Nichols, Iowa, and graduated from high school in West Liberty, Iowa. Sarinana enlisted in the United States Army National Guard at the age of 17 in hopes of attending college with tuition assistance. Sarinana decided to pursue law school after retaining an immigration attorney in Iowa City to sponsor a family member for permanent residency in 2016. After that experience, he enrolled at Iowa on a pre-law track, earning a Bachelor of Arts in criminology, law, and justice in 2021. He is a first-gen high school graduate, university graduate, and law student. Sarinana spent his first summer internship exploring Iowa and Illinois workers’ compensation law, medical malpractice litigation, and employment discrimination law. He looks forward to exploring other areas of law at the Shuttleworth & Ingersoll law firm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, next summer.
Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy
The Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy honors one faculty member and one staff member or administrator who support first-gen students’ education and serve as an exemplary advocate for first-generation students at Iowa. It is not required that nominees have identified as first-gen students themselves.
This year, the 1stGen@Iowa Award selection committee chose to recognize two faculty nominees. One of these nominees, Jan Wessel, has spent much of his time supporting undergraduate first-gen students, and the other nominees (co-recipients), Joseph Yockey and Lorie Schweer, have provided outstanding support of professional students in the College of Law.
Julie Claus is an avid reader who studied English Literature at Iowa. She graduated with honors in 1984 and earned a Master of Arts in 1986. When Claus was reading her way through college, skeptics asked, “What do you plan to do with that degree?” She landed her dream job at the UI’s Academic Advising Center. For 33 years, she has spent her workdays in conversation with Iowa undergraduates, inspiring them to create their ideal life story. One of those students, Nick Williams, a fourth-year student who identifies as first-gen, nominated her for the 2022 Award for Outstanding First-Generation Student Advocacy. Claus says she is grateful to celebrate this award with her students, colleagues, friends, and family, especially her son, Sam, who earned his civil engineering degree from Iowa, and his wife, Jillna, a first-gen college student who earned her MBA with distinction from Iowa.
Jan Wessel grew up in a small town in the rural countryside near Germany’s border with the Netherlands. In 2008, he became the first in his family to graduate from college when he received a psychology degree from Germany’s largest university, the University of Cologne. He then earned a PhD in cognitive neurology from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Diego. In 2015, he established his own NIH-funded lab at Iowa, where he and his colleagues study the human brain’s ability to control thoughts and actions. In 2018, Jan received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. He used part of the funds included with this award to establish a First-Generation Brain Research Workshop at Iowa. This free multi-day workshop allows first-gen students with interest in neuroscience to explore the methods of human brain research and gain insights into the world of academic science.
Joseph W. Yockey is the David H. Vernon Professor of Law at the UI College of Law. He joined the faculty in 2010. He teaches and writes in the areas of corporate law, securities regulation, and higher education. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois College of Law, and he practiced at the law firm of Sidley Austin before moving to academia. He is the faculty advisor to the Iowa Law Review, and, in 2019, he co-founded the First-Generation Lawyers at Iowa Law student organization. He served as president of the UI Faculty Senate from 2020-21.
Lorie Schweer was the first in her immediate and extended family to graduate from college. She earned an accounting degree from the University of Northern Iowa in 1984, and a law degree from Iowa in 2003. She has enjoyed teaching at the College of Law as a professor of legal analysis, writing, and research since 2008.