Helping First Generation Students #WATWB

If you follow me on Twitter, or if you follow this blog, you probably realize or would quickly remember that I attended undergraduate school at West Virginia University (WVU – Go Mountaineers). You may even remember that I started undergraduate school at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs). If you read a few older posts, you might even remember that my brother and I were two of the four children in our generation to attend college from within our extended family. The four of us were all first-generation students, i.e. no one from our parent’s generation had gone to college.

That’s not a bad thing, most every family in our parents’ generation did well, as measured by the socioeconomic metrics at the time. However, when we landed on our respective campuses, we were on our own. The fact that my brother and I both attended out-of-state schools, added a little extra meaning to “on your own” and it wasn’t always easy.

WVU recently started paying a little extra attention to these first-generation students. An email I received led me to an article that describes the way some first-generation professors are helping these students:

A number of students beginning their academic career at WVU are embarking on a journey that no one in their families have before, becoming the first generation of their families to earn four-year degrees.

That experience comes with unique challenges for students as they make their way through an unfamiliar culture with its own language and expectations. How do I talk to my professor? Can someone help me understand the syllabus? If I need tutoring, is it free?

Take heart, though. We’re here to help. What’s more, a number of faculty in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences had the same experience. They too were once first-generation college students excited about the future, but anxious about asking for help and speaking up in class.”

Following that, WVU started an outreach program within the alumni community. They created a website, a newsletter and a mobile app. Through those conduits, they are giving alumni a chance to participate in helping these first-generation, as well as other, students. We (alumni) have opportunities to register as mentors, advisers, resume reviewers, etc. Although my undergraduate experience is over 40 years old, I have agreed to help, if students or other alumni think my advice/experience/opinion would be useful. I was lucky to have some very good advisors when I was in school, so I know how beneficial this advice can be.


The “We are the World” Blogfest is in its 8th month of a year-long journey. This blogfest’s goal is to spread the message of light, hope and love in today’s world. We are challenging all participants to share the positive side of humanity. This month’s co-hosts, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia McGrath, Mary Giese, Belinda Witzenhausen and Guilie Castillo, welcome participants and encourage all to join in during future months. #WATWB is a blog hop on the last Friday of every month. Click HERE to check out the intention and rules of the blogfest and feel free to sign up at any time between now and February of 2018.

49 thoughts on “Helping First Generation Students #WATWB

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  1. Hi Dan – it’s great you’ve offered to join the programme – you’ll learn and they will too … I’m sure it will be uplifting. It’s something I missed out on – and can see the advantage of having a mentor at many stages of our life – it’s great you’re giving hope to youngsters … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That souns like a great program. If everyone else has has much rich experience as you and is willing to share it, there is only good to be gained by first genereation students. Good luck to all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cheryl. I remember my father telling me that he wished he could help me, but that he really didn’t understand what I was about to do. Fortunately, my brother was four years older, and was already in college when I was trying to figure it out. He was a big help.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh very nice :) I hope you enjoy it. No doubt students will benefit from your influence.
    I was a first generation college grad, too.
    Things WERE different. Things my parents did without formal education would now require substantial higher ed, and at times, several trade schools.
    The Mister is considering college advisory positions, and I think it might be a good fit for him. It’d be refreshing to see him employing his natural abilities and experiences rather than the corporate world, but time will tell.
    I’m so glad you got involved in the program, best wishes to all of you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Joey. West Virginia has a lot of students who will probably have to relocate in order to get a job. That’s something else that I had to deal with. It’s easier today than it was in the mid-70s, but it’s still a big move. I’ve been through a lot, and if someone can benefit from my experience, I’m happy to help.

      Doing something like this for a living is intriguing. I don’t know that I ever had (or realized I had) enough experience to do that. I certainly didn’t have any education. Then there’s my bedside manner…maybe I chose the right path ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The relocation aspect is thoughtful. I hadn’t thought about that at all. I was legit afraid to move far from home at 22. Even college was only 2 hours away, tops. I knew my starting point. I’m glad they’ll have your perspective.

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  4. I remember being freaked out my freshman year of high school by little things…finding my locker, finding my classroom, etc. So, I can imagine how difficult it is for some in their first year of college in a spread-out campus. Just to navigate the buildings and classrooms has a learning curve, let alone everything else one needs to know. UWV offers a wonderful service to it’s students. Thanks for sharing, Dan, and for participating in #WATWB.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. As a freshman at University of Georgia, there was a lot of help available. As a transfer student into WVU, I was on my own. It was very hard. I was fortunate to have a good advisor, but there’s a lot they can’t help you with. Plus, no one knew anything about the career opportunities I was going to end up with. I had some good advice, but it was pure luck that I found the right people. I think this is a great program.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Judy. I was lucky, in that my brother was three years into college when I was starting to look around. I still made a bad initial choice, but I recovered. I’ve served as a mentor here in CT, and it’s a rewarding experience. It feels good to be able to give back in ways other than sending a check once a year.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I went from a very small grammar school to a huge high school, and as if that wasn’t scary enough–I was the youngest one in my class. College is a whole ‘nother story. Dan, you are a good person to volunteer to be a mentor. I am glad WVU has started this program–I hope they have great participation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In many ways, high school was a harder transition for me. You are trapped in that environment. At lease when I got to college, I had a little freedom. Still, there were so many things I didn’t know, especially about where to go from there. If I can help someone figure this stuff out, I’d be happy to.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. How interesting. My experience in college mirrors your own. I started in one university where I had guidance, then transferred to a different university where it was sink or swim. I don’t know that I made the best choices left on my own as I was, but I did graduate so I swam. Just glad that programs are now available to help kids so that no one has to feel so alone while earning a degree.

    [Also, I feel like I’m stalking you these past couple of weeks. We certainly run in the same blogging circles! Who knew? Happy to meet you. :-)]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha – it’s been fun to see your comments. I feel like, when I was in college, there was more room for error. Today, things are moving so fast that these kids really need to make the best decision they can. I’m happy to help someone do that,

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is strange for me to read about a university that actually cares for its students. It is an unequalled thing to do. Thank you Dan.
    By the way, you have said before that schedule posts on WordPress. I have never tried it until this month’s #WATWB. Due to the situation in Kenya, I wrote my post on Monday and scheduled it for 12.15am Friday. It worked. I was worried that something might happen to me. Thanks for the influence. Enjoy your weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This sounds like a wonderful program and kudos to you for throwing your hat in the ring.

    Not only was I a first generation, but my family as a whole didn’t understand what I was doing or why I needed to be so far away. A mentor or two along the way would have been extremely useful – I made some weak decisions and having someone advising me with an eye to the real world would have helped me avoid some major potholes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. I definitely could have used some local help. My parents were in favor of the idea, and my brother was already in school, so I had support and some insight, but I was alone in West Virginia.

      Like

  9. What a lovely idea! I imagine those first generation students have questions/concerns/etc. that others not in that particular group do not. Who better to address those concerns to than someone who has been in that very same spot before. Good for you for volunteering to make those student’s experience a little more comfortable.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so proud of you and will say men are very needed for their perspective, Dan! I know this from a variety of ways, both my brother (was an interim prof at my alum, BGSU) and sister in law is a Dean at Baldwin Wallace.
    I really like the idea of “care packages” to college students with a note included. I did this for about ten college kids, friends of my youngest daughter, Felicia. Pringles cans are excellent travel tubes for cookies. 🍪🍪

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Encouragement for those in stressful settings is always welcome and needed. You are making a difference in college “kids’ ” lives, Dan.
        Now, aiming to catch up with nearly two weeks of your blog posts. Yikes!
        I made it to New Orleans and didn’t take the traditional photos, more the edges than the middle. You’ll see in a week or so, a few pop up interspersed on my blog. Now, in the bucolic setting of “down in the bayou” of Mississippi (passed many marshy places) and from the airport it was fascinating!! Take it easy, today on Sunday.
        We are heading to church soon!

        Like

  11. Sometimes when I see all that negativity in the media I think of how the world has become a bitter place, but every now and then I read some news of how people help each other, these small acts of compassion overpowers hatred and negativity and brings us closer to each other as brothers and sisters of a big global family. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jennie. A lot of those students are first generation students, and a lot will be the first to leave the state for employment. I think that’s an area where I might be able to help, given that I had to leave the Pittsburgh area to find work.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Kuddos to you, Dan for joining the alumni who want to make a difference. Regardless of the number of years I’m 100% that first-generation students will relate to your story. We always do when someone has been through a similar experience. We know to recognize authenticity when it’s there. Another great blogfest theme here!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Good morning, Dan ~ If you were hoping your WATWB would have an impact, IT JUST DID! As part of my side gig, I do some work for the College and Career Access manager here in Idaho. Last summer, we held a summit called Idaho’s Future: Improving the Transition from High School to College and Career. We put high school counselors from around our state in the same room with academic advisors from all of our public colleges and universities. Over two days, we asked them to examine the “pipeline” between high school and college. It became readily apparent that the HUGE breakdown was in the summer transition and the first year postsecondary The thing that became really clear is the lack of RELATIONSHIP building in first year college students. One student explained it very clearly – “We need to have some relationship that gives us a reason to stay at school, and to come back after Thanksgiving. It’s hard to navigate all by yourself, and once you go home again to your own bed and mom’s cooking….”

    I think using the alumni associations is a brilliant way to address these breakdowns, and I’m going to share your idea. If you have any additional info I might pass along, could you send it to me at encorevoyage@gmail.com. Thanks! ~ Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

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