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UI kicks off initiative for first generation students

BY CASSIDY RILEY | SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Every year, many students step onto the University of Iowa campus not only for the first time but as the first person in their families to attend college.

This school year alone, roughly 1,100 first-generation students enrolled at the university, according to a UI press release. UI officials want to bring more attention to that group this year with a new initiative from the Center for Diversity and Enrichment targeting first-generation students.

To kick off the start of activities for this initiative, the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment will hosting its first event on Sept. 20 in the press box at Kinnick Stadium. UI President Sally Mason will speak.

UI journalism Professor Julie Andsager said that as a first-generation student herself, she believes this initiative is very important because first-generation college students can face unique challenges.

“I didn’t realize that it was really important to go to classes, and I had no idea how hard to study,” she said. “I hope that [the first-generation students] will feel like they aren’t just out there on their own.”

The initiative began last spring, when Mason sent an email to faculty members asking them to share their experiences as first-generation students. Roughly 20 faculty members responded, and their responses were used in the development of the new initiative.

UI urban and regional planning Professor Charles Connerly, who responded to the email, said that when he attended Grinnell College, the school put a lot of programs and rules in place that helped first-generation students feel less isolated, including only allowing seniors to have cars and paying for social events. Class differences were less noticeable, and this made all the difference for him.

Despite the difference in his experiences, he iterated Andsager’s belief that first-generation students don’t have to feel alone and there are resources on campus to help them.

The responses from faculty and other research led to the planning of different events to encourage first-generation students to interact with other students and faculty; eventually, a student-mentoring program for first-generation students will be developed.

Kelly Strang — a tutor coordinator with TRIO student support service and adviser for the First Generation Iowa organization —said it’s important for the UI to focus on these students because of the challenges that first-generation students face.

“It can be an isolating experience, and I think that’s a really specific challenge,” Strang said.

First-generation students often struggle because they aren’t able to lean on their parents to help them through financial aid, admissions, and other specific processes of college, she said.

UI Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge said this initiative is something that officials are being very careful about in decision-making, and therefore, many events as well as the mentoring program are not solidified yet.

“This is not something we are rolling out overnight,” Dodge said. “We are being very slow about it.”

Senior Bethliz Irizarry, the vice president of First Generation Students Iowa, said she is excited about the initiative because there are many things she wishes she would have known when she was a freshman as a first-generation student.

“I wish someone would have said, ‘That’s OK,’ ” Irizarry said. “I think it’s a great idea, [and] I’m glad that this didn’t just start off as an idea and stay an idea.”


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