Between them, Paul Thayer and Barb Musslewhite have dedicated more than six decades of their time, energy and passion to help students achieve their dreams at Colorado State University. It has been their commitment to each and every one that leaves an extraordinary legacy of both access and excellence for future generations of Rams.
A strong and lasting foundation
Thayer, associate vice president for student success, and Musslewhite, director of opportunity scholar programs, will both retire this year. They leave a strong and lasting foundation for the First Generation Award program, which combines financial aid, academic support, social engagement and continuous encouragement as they achieve a dream their parents never could, that of completing a bachelor’s degree. CSU was the first university in the country to offer a scholarship designed specifically for first-generation students in 1984, and the program has since become a national model.
As the university commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the First Generation Award program March 1, CSU President and System Chancellor Tony Frank spoke about the great impact of both Thayer and Musslewhite on current and former award recipients and their families.
A national model
“Barb and Paul have built the First Generation program,” said Frank. “They have defined first-generation programs not just at this university but literally across the nation. They have been teachers to many in this room — and certainly teachers to all of us who have had the privilege of working with them around these topics. They’ve never lost track of what it means to be a land-grant university and the ideal that what matters most is our students. Everyone who has the ability to be admitted to this institution ought to have the ability to succeed, and with that belief, Paul and Barb have transformed the lives of thousands of CSU students. Our university, and Colorado, are better because of them.”
Musslewhite herself was a first-generation student at CSU, graduating in 1978 with a bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies. “I could have used me,” she says, referring to the all-encompassing support First Generation Award students receive today.
Proclamation:’First Generation Scholarship Awards Day’ March 1
During the celebration, Romaine Pacheco, current director of the Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions and former president of the Board of Agriculture (now CSU System Board of Governors) from 1995-1997, presented a proclamation from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper marking March 1 as “First Generation Scholarship Awards Day.”
“One of the first events I attended when I came on to the Board for CSU was the First Generation banquet,” said Pacheco. “That evening truly said to me this is what CSU is about. It is about students. It is about access. It’s about ensuring that students have an education that they can be proud of.”
Creation of the First Generation Award program
Along with Pacheco, members of CSU’s governing board who established the First Generation Award were in attendance to honor Thayer and Musslewhite: Pablo Salas (State Board of Agriculture 1981-1988, President, 1986); Dick Robinson (State Board of Agriculture 1984-1991, President, 1987-1990); John Stencel (State Board of Agriculture 1977 – 1981); Gene Petrone (executive director, secretary and treasurer of the State Board of Agriculture 1980-87). Advocates of the program Dr. Fred Kerst (Board of Governors 2002-2006) and Pat McConathy (Board Chair 2009-2011) also attended, and one of the program’s strongest supporters, former CSU President Albert C. Yates, spoke about the critical importance of the First Generation Award program.
“I remember well the tributes to our First Generation students and to their parents and family. I remember the stories of struggle and sacrifice, but also the stories of hope and opportunity and second chances,” Yates said. “I look at this (celebration) as another opportunity to say thank you to a couple of people who, because of their work and the work of so many others who love and have been such an important part of this university, enable me to say something that I was awfully fond of saying: CSU is indeed, a warm, welcoming and inviting place for all who come to work and to study here.”
Debt of gratitude
Brett Anderson, vice president for University Advancement, added his accolades to Musslewhite and Thayer and others who have supported the First Generation Award.
“Barb and Paul have been such tremendous ambassadors and drivers for this program over the years, along with so many generous donors. I want to extend a sincere thank you to each and everyone of our donors who have, and continue to, give so much to support our first-generation students. We owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You are helping make dreams come true for generations of CSU students,” he said.
As the celebration concluded, Thayer and First Generation Award alumna Vanessa Trujillo applauded the ground-breaking contributions of Musslewhite.
“Barb didn’t need to have the first-generation idea explained to her,” said Thayer, who hired Musslewhite in 1990 as coordinator of the Minority Mentoring Program and in 1997 asked her to shepherd and nurture the First Generation Award program. “She knew how it felt to be first-generation and was committed to the depths of her soul to ensuring every First Generation Award student had more than just a place on this campus. Barb was determined to see that every First Generation student was connected to every other First Generation student and that every resource on campus would be connected to them too. Over Barb’s 25 years, she has breathed her spirit into the First Generation Award program and its students, giving it the life, the vitality, and the sense of community that we see and feel.”
“I’ve always referred to this First Generation support network as my family, a family that Barb has helped create for us,” said Trujillo. “Barb embraced us from the moment we decided to become Rams, and I can attest that she is still present after we walk across that graduation stage.”
The starfish story
Musslewhite’s impact is so much more far-reaching than the number of students she’s helped over her many years at CSU. A story she shared to wrap up the celebration sums up her philosophy.
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he a noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it back into the ocean. The man asked the boy what he was doing. The boy replied that he was throwing starfish back into the ocean because the surf was up and the tide was going out and if he didn’t throw them back, they would die. The man told him that there were miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish, so the boy would not be able to make a difference. After listening politely, the boy bent down and picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then smiling at the man he said, ‘I made a difference for that one.’”
Musslewhite’s legacy truly is making a difference for each and every student she worked with. She says she will miss graduation the most, when she was able to cheer on her students and give them a very special pin – Colorado State University First Generation Alumni.
Center for Advising and Student Achievement Director Gaye DiGregorio asked everyone to look to the future. “It’s imperative for everyone – for current First Generations Scholars, First Generation alumni, CSU faculty, staff, administrators, past administrators, Board of Governors – to continue to build an even stronger village that Barb spearheaded. I am confident that with Barb’s legacy, we will continue to grow as a university. One way you can foster this growth is by contributing to the newly named Barb Musslewhite First Generation Scholarship.”
The Barb Musslewhite First Generation Scholarship Endowment
The First Generation Alumni Scholarship Award has been fittingly renamed to honor Musslewhite. Those who would like to recognize her tremendous work, to expand upon it and support the amazing students of all ages and walks of life who are striving to complete their degree, when their parents never had that privilege, may donate to the Barb Musslewhite First Generation Scholarship Endowment.