Colton Roberts aims to inspire first-gen students, show them anything is possible

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Colton Roberts is proud to be a first-generation college student.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney sophomore is not only pursuing his dream of becoming a physical therapist, but also paving a path for his younger brother.

“It’s important for me to show him that even though nobody has done it before him, it’s still possible,” Roberts said. “If you have something you want to do, like graduate college and become whatever you want in life, it’s possible. It may be a little tougher at first, but you can definitely do it.”

As vice president of UNK’s First Gen Lopers student organization, Roberts wants to set an example for current and future first-generation college students and serve as an “approachable resource” they can turn to for assistance.

“I’ve always wanted to live my life in a way that I can help others succeed,” he said. “This is the perfect group for that.”

Launched earlier this year, First Gen Lopers provides a social network and support system for first-generation students from Day 1 through graduation. Their goal is to help students better understand the ins and outs of college life, from academics and financial aid to campus housing and extracurricular activities.

“Even though they may not have these resources available at home, there are other people out there who are willing to help,” Roberts said.

The Harvard native learned that early on in his UNK career.

Coming from a town of about 1,000 residents, Roberts chose UNK because the campus and community offer that same small-town feel with the added benefits of attending a university in a larger city. He also loves the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, where he’s majoring in exercise science with an athletic training minor.

“The faculty here are some of the best in the country, so it was a pretty easy decision,” said Roberts, who’s already gaining hands-on experience through research and other activities.

As a member of the Undergraduate Research Fellows program, Roberts works with a faculty mentor to test GPS trackers by analyzing data they collect from UNK football players.

“And I’m having a blast doing it,” he said.

Roberts definitely isn’t afraid to try new things.

“I didn’t just want to go to school for four years and not have any experiences to talk about,” he said.

Luckily, it’s “super easy” to get involved at UNK, where there are more than 150 student organizations and academic groups to choose from.

Roberts is a member of the Exercise Science Club and Sigma Phi Epsilon, a fraternity that emphasizes academic excellence, leadership and the development of healthy, lifelong relationships.

“In Sig Ep, we focus on building balanced men who can go out and succeed in the world. That’s what I wanted to be a part of. I want to be somebody who can succeed in life, and this was a group to help me along the way,” Roberts said.

He’s also a resident assistant in Randall Hall, a position that pays for his room and board. The research program provides a $600 stipend each semester and Roberts receives a full-tuition Board of Regents Scholarship, allowing him to attend college without any financial concerns.

“That’s another really great opportunity here at UNK,” he said. “There are so many different ways, just by doing stuff here on campus, that I can get money to put toward school.”

Roberts is proof that at UNK, anything is possible for first-generation students.


Being a first-generation student is a badge of honor at UNK, where roughly 4 in 10 students can proudly claim this distinction.

UNK will recognize its first-generation students, faculty and staff and celebrate their successes 2:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, during the third annual First Gen Day. The entire campus community is invited to attend the event at The Graze, the recently renovated dining hall inside the Nebraskan Student Union.

The celebration includes free T-shirts and other giveaways, a photo booth and complimentary treats from Sodexo. Adrian Gomez Ramos, a first-generation student and May 2021 graduate, is the featured speaker.

The recipients of UNK’s Trailblazer and Friend of First Gen awards will also be recognized. The Trailblazer Award honors an outstanding first-generation student and the Friend of First Gen Award is presented to a faculty or staff member who goes above and beyond to support first-generation students.

UNK’s First Gen Day coincides with the National First-Generation College Celebration and the Nov. 8 anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created a range of initiatives to help low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students obtain college degrees.