First Gen Students Share College Experience
At the University of St. Thomas, nearly 44 percent of incoming freshman can be considered first generation students. These are students whose parents have not attained their bachelor’s degree. This is slightly lower than the national average of nearly 50 percent of today’s college students considered first generation students. Of those students who are considered first generation, only 11.6 percent attend private four-year institutions, compared to the 22.1 percent non-first-generation students.
“By being a small campus, students are able to connect with faculty, staff and other students who share similar experiences,” said Dr. Ric Montelongo, director for student success. “We have the FirstGen group that provides a nice outlet to connect. I think everyone, whether first generation or not, understands that we have these students on our campus and wants to see them succeed.”
With first generation students in every field of study, UST seeks to help first-generation college students succeed in becoming college graduates by creating support networks that promote success and growth.
First Gen Resources at UST
The FirstGen group is one resource that UST first generation students can use to ease their transition into college. The group seeks to ease the transition from high school to college, clarify the college experience for students and families and provide a community where first generation students can share their experiences.
Other resources first generation students have access to are the student affairs office, to concentrate on student development and out-of-classroom experiences, and the tutorial services center to achieve success in their studies.
Kelly Moran, sophomore biology major, has learned about several other resources because of the upperclassmen she has met in the FirstGen group. When her first philosophy paper was assigned she learned about the tutoring center and, after visiting with them, earned an “A” on the paper. Moran plans on using all the resources available to achieve her dream of practicing sports medicine for a professional sports team.
“Use your time in high school as a stepping stone and practice round for college,” Moran said. “Establish good study habits and ask many questions to your professors and counselors. I know it can be daunting to reach out and ask for help, especially if you are used to doing things on your own, but they will benefit the most at the end.”
Balancing Family Life
One of the major areas of focus in helping first generation students have a successful college experience is making sure they live a balanced life. With class, work, study and family obligations competing for time, it is important that the student, and also their family, understand the demands a college education requires each day. Through understanding priorities and obligations students can work with mentors and their family to devise a schedule that meets their needs.
Carlos Razuri is in a slightly different situation. Technically the junior psychology major is not a first generation college student; his father earned a college degree in Peru. However, the college application process in the U.S. proved to be very different than that of Peru. Razuri says finding a balanced approach to life is what has made him successful so far.
“My success has come through proper time management and communication,” Razuri said. “Talking with those involved in my life so that my work and the people around me all get the time they deserve. Sometimes you have to sacrifice fun for schoolwork, or tell your friends that you have to dedicate time to family and schoolwork.”
First Gen Community
Success comes from a combination of hard work, teamwork, commitment and self-discipline. The FirstGen community is built on the tenant of teamwork and rewards those who are inquisitive. Students are encouraged to seek answers and ask questions on everything from scholarship opportunities to study habits and balancing, school work and family. By participating in a group students have access to others who have already overcome obstacles they may be facing and can help and encourage them on their journey.
Ruth Rea, a junior biology major, was glad to find that the students, professors and staff at UST are approachable and helpful. She thinks it is important to get involved and explore different types of activities and clubs, and that is easier to do when students know that, even though these new experiences can be overwhelming at times, people are willing to help.
“I did not discover this group until sophomore year, but it was still able to help me out,” Rea said. “I truly enjoy the comfort that each meeting brings. It is a nice feeling knowing that you can bring any concern or question to the group, and they will give you all the information possible.”
Open to all UST students and staff, the UST FirstGen Group meets every other Friday at 12:30 p.m. in the Ahern Room, Crooker Center, to connect, share successes and discuss issues facing first-generation college students.