The challenges of college can sometimes be more difficult for students who are among the first in their families to attend college. To support these first-generation students, a group of faculty and staff at Immaculata created First@IU, a program dedicated to helping students succeed as they progress on their academic journeys.
First@IU helps first-generation students connect with each other and with mentors, many of whom were first-generation students themselves. Mentors work one-on-one with students to explain the support services available and cheer them on as they work toward their degrees. Students learn about resources to help pay for college, build skills for academic success, feel more encouraged and empowered, and plan for their careers.
At the First@IU launch party held in November, students enjoyed lunch, giveaways and opportunities to meet mentors and visit resource tables for financial aid; counseling services; career services; advising; and diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We’re glad you’re here,” said Kate Kearney, executive director for undergraduate advising, adding that she and the other First@IU mentors would help students get where they need to go. She told them they were part of a large community, as about a third of Immaculata’s freshman class indicated they were first-generation students.
Kearney also noted it’s not uncommon for students to struggle to maintain good grades. “It’s OK; it’s all part of the process,” she said. “This is a safe space to learn those things. As long as you’re trying, your professors are going to meet you halfway, and more than halfway, because everybody here wants you to succeed.”
The mentors introduced themselves and shared about their backgrounds. Some were the first in their families not only to earn bachelor’s degrees, but also master’s and doctoral degrees. A few mentors said they were both first-generation college students and first-generation Americans who had immigrated to the U.S. All the mentors empathized with the challenges first-generation students face, from deciphering college jargon to balancing work, friends, family and studies.
Heidi Harrison, director of career and professional development and a first-generation student, encouraged attendees to use her office’s services to explore potential careers and narrow down their interests through job shadowing. Inviting students to stop by or make an appointment for career counseling, she emphasized the importance of making the transition from student to employee.
Kathy Memmo, associate director for undergraduate advising, said she felt out of place as a first-generation student. She thought everyone except her already knew the secrets of college. “But everyone is in the same boat,” she said, urging students not to be afraid to ask questions.
Jess Gilpert, director of counseling services, shared that she is the first in both her immediate and extended families to attend college. While she had to figure out for herself how to apply to and enroll at college, she watched her friends’ parents help them navigate complex tasks throughout their entire college career, including searching for internships and jobs. Wanting to help others who need more assistance, Gilpert invited students to come to her with any questions.
To close the launch party, Lynn Rothenhoefer, associate dean of students, applauded first-generation students for being trailblazers in their families. “Keep applying yourselves the way you are,” she said. “We’re already super proud of you.”