College is often considered a melting pot of diverse perspectives, with individuals coming from all over and bringing with them their own unique background. Among these individuals are first-generation college students.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has recently been recognized as a First Scholar Institution because of its commitment to the success of first-generation students.
The university shares this honor with 21 other institutions.
Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor, dean of Undergraduate Education and co-chair of First Generation Nebraska, said she is excited that UNL was named a First Scholar Institution, because it shows the hard work that the university has put in to support first-generation students.
“It’s a nice recognition of our current efforts and keeps us motivated to improve even more,” Goodburn said.
About 24% of UNL’s overall student body is first generation, according to Goodburn.
Some of these first-generation students struggle with isolation and a lack of support.
“Being a first-gen student can feel kind of isolating, especially before you know about the resources available to help,” said Shelby March, a freshman English major and first-generation student.
First-generation students do not have access to mentoring or networks to explain what it means to do college from an early age as their parents did not have that experience, according to Goodburn.
“I had to do a lot of things on my own, such as researching schools, applying for colleges and deciding on a major,” March said. “I had to find alternative mentors for myself since my parents couldn’t provide the help I needed.”
Freshman theatre arts and advertising and public relations major Kaitlin Myrant is proud of being a first-generation student but still struggles with support from family members.
“It can be difficult not having anyone to fall back on. I talk to my parents plenty, but they don’t exactly understand everything.” Myrant said. “Nobody was able to tell me how to study for classes, how to get involved with clubs or not to date an upperclassman.”
“I don’t have any siblings or cousins that went to college before me, so I was completely in the dark,” Myrant said.
UNL and its staff are aware of the stress and pressure put on its first-generation students and have worked hard to support their needs and growth by focusing on improving retention and graduation rates for first-generation students, according to Goodburn.
“As a campus, we have worked hard to collaborate across units to increase visibility of existing services and to build new programs to support these students on their college journey,” Goodburn said.
One example of a support service at UNL is First Huskers, a no-cost initiative designed to help first-generation students with their transition to college life.
“I’m a part of the First Huskers program, and I credit it with a lot of my success and feeling comfortable on campus,” March said.
A main part of First Huskers is a four-day foundational event that gives first-generation students the opportunity to move to campus early and learn skills vital to college success.
“This really helped me adjust and made campus feel like home before the semester even officially started,” March said. “I’m very grateful for the advantage that gave me.”
Another initiative designed to support first-generation students is First Generation Nebraska.
This is done through social and educational programs and events and by building staff awareness about how to support the needs of first-generation students, according to Goodburn.
These events help first-generation students meet other people in the same situation as them and allows for those students to form connections.
“My roommate is another first-gen student within my area of study, so we lean on each other quite a bit,” Myrant said. “These people are the key to my adjustment to college life.”
Finding a support network and peers to rely on helped March settle into the university environment, she said.
“Once I established my own support network of programs, individual mentors and friends, adapting to college life felt natural,” March said. “This truly does feel like where I’m supposed to be.”