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First-Generation Students Flourish at UST

Ronald Key, a University of St. Thomas junior psychology major, said he never considered his fellow students might be encountering similar first-generation student challenges.

The University of St. Thomas has created a first-generation student group to encourage and provide first-generation students with helpful information about scholarship opportunities, skills to help them succeed and a venue to meet other students.  

 “I’m learning it all as I go along because my parents never applied for financial aid or registered for classes,” Key said.  “I want other first-generation students to know that they shouldn’t give up.  If you don’t know something, never be afraid to ask questions.  Someone on the UST campus is always willing to help.”

Nationally, more than 75 percent of first-generation college students leave school before receiving a degree.  First-generation students, coming from families where neither parent has received an undergraduate degree, face unique challenges because they don’t have the firsthand guidance many students receive from their parents. 

Yolanda Norman, director of Residence Life, is leading the UST group for first-generation students .

“I am a first-generation graduate and I had a hard time going through school because no one else in my family was there,” Norman said.  “I want to help first-generation UST students find a common bond, know that they are not alone, share my experiences, be there to mentor them and answer their questions.”

The group meets once a month and Norman is available to meet one-on-one or communicate by phone or e-mail in order to best help her students.  So far, the group has held a workshop on building resumes, discussed scholarships that are available and will soon be having a workshop on how to interview for a job.

UST was recently recognized in the Center for Student Opportunity’s 2011 College Access & Opportunity Guide, a comprehensive college guidebook designed to help low-income, first-generation college-bound students make their college dreams a reality.  UST is one of 284 colleges and universities nationwide highlighted for their outreach efforts, financial aid opportunities and student support services.

In addition to Norman’s student group, UST provides resource opportunities to ensure the success of first-year and first-generation college students.  The first-year experience class, Freshman Symposium, offers individualized faculty and staff mentorship to incoming students.  The five-week Mendenhall Summer Institute for 50 incoming freshmen gives select students a head start in their college education, providing them with support and the opportunity to earn grants toward college tuition. 

First-generation students interested in joining the group, and former first-generation graduates who are now part of the UST faculty or staff interested in helping with the group, should contact Yolanda Norman at 713-525-3836 or