First-generation team helps students succeed

K-State’s first generation office for student success guides students to campus resources.

The First Generation Office for Student Success at Kansas State University is now up and running. The Suder Foundation has funded this team to help students succeed who are the first in their immediate family to attend college or university. The office will provide support by coordinating efforts across campus to help students navigate their way through the university based on the requirements set for graduation.

Stephanie Bannister, assistant vice president for student life, shared her thoughts on the impact the new office will have for students. “The benefit of having an office is that it provides a central person and space in which students, faculty and staff can get connected to all things related to first- generation students. Roughly 25 percent of the undergraduate student body is first-generation and they all face different challenges. First- generation students are trailblazers – they are transitioning through college without any sort of roadmap,” Stephanie shared. “Often they begin to think they don’t belong in college; no one in their family has been to college so they wonder why they are here. The office is there to help students better understand how to navigate their student experience.”

“I can think of no better way for K-State to live out our land-grant mission than to centralize and coordinate services for first-generation students;” Stephanie said. “Having an administrator and student success team focused on providing access to higher education with a focus on advocacy and programming for students throughout their college years to graduation is critical.”

Office of First-Generation Students, assistant director, Rebeca Paz believes the new space will help to further increase the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of first-generation college students. “There is a wide gap between the retention and graduation rates of first- gen and non- first- gen students;” she said. “Our goal is to close the achievement gap.”

First- generation students have several hurdles they face when coming to college, such as, not knowing how to navigate the university system, lack of social as well as cultural capital and financial challenges on how to afford college. Many work several hours to help finance their college education. “Even though parents are mostly supportive of their students attending college; they may not be able to help them problem solve because they are not familiar with the system,” Rebeca said. “Thus, they lack parental guidance which would help them during transitions and through the college years.”

“Many first-gen students may face the impostor phenomenon, identified as an internal sense of phoniness: a feeling that they don’t belong at the university coupled with feelings of insecurity about their capabilities to make it in college”

This office will connect students to already existing resources to help them tackle the barriers they will face. First- gen students will be guided to enroll in a K-State First offering during their first year. They will all be encouraged to visit the University Success Center, which includes the Academic Achievement Center that offers tutoring and coaching. Peer mentoring, as well as faculty mentoring programs, will also be offered by the Office of First- Generation Students. Rebeca said that the office will work closely with the newly formed First Generation Student Organization and will encourage leadership development.

Katie Gehring, senior from Madison, Kansas, dual- majoring in Human Development and Family Science and Spanish, has shared how the First Scholars Program has impacted her personally. “Having the opportunity to get the help and resources you need from people who genuinely want to see you succeed has been great,” she said. “Being a first-gen student means that often times you feel as though you have to tackle challenges on your own, but having an office gives the option to be guided along the way by people who understand what it’s like to be a first-generation student.” Katie acknowledges that the First Scholars Program, which is part of the new office, has been a huge part of her success at K-State. She would not have made it into her senior year as smoothly as she has because of the support she received, she was given the correct information and the right tools to succeed with being the best student she could be.

Jessie Carr, is a junior from Pleasanton, Kansas, majoring in Human Development and Family Science. She is also obtaining a secondary degree in Global Food Systems Leadership, while minoring in non-profit leadership. Jessie has become very passionate about advocating for other first-gen students. “I’m fortunate enough to be part of the First Scholars program here at K-State, so I have had access to an abundant amount of resources to help me be successful in my time at K-State. However, there are many other first-gen students who have not received the same opportunities as me. The office will help me advocate not only for, but with, other first gen students,” Jessie says.

The office is full of passionate people, students, and partners and will be able to provide first gen students with the resources they may need. Thanks to the Suder Foundation’s financial support, this office can and will open so many doors for first-gen students, providing an innovative way to connect students to resources, whether they are, financial, academic, or anything in between they need to be successful. These first-gen students bring many things to campus they are resilient, diverse and usually possess intrinsic motivation. Stephanie and Rebeca both have high hopes that this office will be successful as it takes off even more in the fall 2018 semester, especially with the office’s faculty and staff getting a better understanding of the need to reduce barriers and make sure that the program and everything included is first-gen friendly.


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