Rob Longwell-Grice: Breaking down barriers for first-generation college students

May 06, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State College of Education alumnus Rob Longwell-Grice knows first-hand the challenges faced by first-generation college students. Today, he draws upon his own experiences to help others who are also the first in their families to pursue a college degree.

Longwell-Grice grew up in Elmira, New York, where his dad was a mason and his mother a homemaker. After earning an associate in arts degree from Corning Community College in 1975, he moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he said it soon became obvious that his job opportunities were limited by having a two-year degree.

Rob Longwell Grice

Rob Longwell-Grice

IMAGE: Provided

In 1978, Longwell-Grice earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Dubuque and spent the next few years working with teens who were placed in foster care and group homes on Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The work was fulfilling, but not necessarily what Longwell-Grice wanted to do long term, so he moved back to his hometown where he reconnected with a friend who was attending Penn State.

“He suggested that my educational background and work experience would make me a perfect fit for a career in student affairs,” Longwell-Grice said.

After earning his master’s degree in counselor education from Penn State in 1983, Longwell-Grice held leadership and student affairs positions at the University of New Hampshire, New England College and the University of Delaware, before moving to Kentucky and earning his doctorate in educational and counseling psychology from the University of Louisville. There, his research on first-generation college students took hold.

“My dissertation was a case study of first-generation college students who were white men from working-class backgrounds,” Longwell-Grice said. “I intentionally chose that, because that was my background and it resonated with me. As I read more case studies, I realized I was reading about me.”

Longwell-Grice’s research also led to discoveries about how the first-generation student phenomenon impacts advising, student affairs, faculty and other facets of higher education. Those findings would set the stage for his next career move to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), where he was hired as director of academic services for its School of Education.

Today, Longwell-Grice is the recruitment and scholarship coordinator in the UWM School of Education’s Office of Student Services. In this role, he attends college fairs, visits high schools and meets with prospective students and their parents. He also collaborates with the school’s development staff to find opportunities to talk with potential donors about where financial need in UWM’s School of Education is greatest.

“Many of our prospective students are first-generation students from Milwaukee public schools,” Longwell-Grice said. “They don’t understand the college application process or what financial aid is available and where to seek it. I am thrilled when I can match a student with a scholarship that will help them afford their college degree.”

Longwell-Grice and his wife, Hope, who is UWM School of Education’s associate dean for academic affairs, are currently writing a book about first-generation students that is slated to be published in the spring of 2020.

They live in Milwaukee and have an adult daughter, Emily. Their first grandchild was born last March.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 06, 2020