An estimated 30 percent of Drexel University’s full-time undergraduate students plus faculty and staff are first-generation college students, though it can be hard to identify others who are experiencing the pressures and constraints of being the first in a family to attend or graduate from a four-year institution of higher education.
That’s why Drexel recently launched First Forward, a program designed to promote pride and help connect undergraduate and graduate students with each other and faculty and staff who have had similar experiences themselves and can serve as mentors or guides.
“It’s really helpful for students to hear that people they see every day are similar to them in regard to some of the challenges that first-generation students face,” said Tasha Gardner, director of the Center for Learning and Academic Success Services in University City.
First Forward also works to make students aware of resources on campus that are in place to help with achieving their goals.
“It truly is a University initiative, and it includes everyone,” said Gardner.
Though the program recently started, Drexel has been working with first-generation college students for years. Last year, for example, Drexel’s First-Generation College steering group held a series of conversations in which students, faculty and staff shared what it meant to be a first-generation student at the University. These talks also helped identify ways in which Drexel could offer the best support to its current and future first-generation students, which helped create and shape First Forward.
After holding an informal meet-and-greet mixer during Welcome Week, First Forward is continuing its program with a “What I Wish I Knew” lunch-and-learn series in which Dragons can bring their own lunches to a noontime event and meet with other first-generation students, faculty and staff.
The first event will be held Oct. 26 at noon in Stratton 260 and will feature an informal discussion about learning in and out of the classroom. A second event held Nov. 6 will focus on using resources to establish a work-life balance.
“We want the conversation to flow naturally so Dragons can bring their lunch, have a great discussion and share stories and resources,” said Gardner.
Going forward, the program is working on a website and hopes to become a recognized partner of I’m First, a national organization that hosts an online community for first-generation college students.
To learn more about the First Forward team (which also includes Lindsay Matias also from CLASS and Meredith Wooten from the Center for Scholar Development) and stay up‐to‐date on workshops and events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.