Finding their own direction

How first-generation students make their own path in life with the help of the university

(From left to right) President Shannon Gamel, Jaylin Love and Janiayah Moore create fun event ideas at the first-gen RSO meeting. Photo by: Marianna Searl | Freelance Photographer

The university experience, for most, consists of studying, making connections and earning a degree. For first-generation students, it’s about changing direction.

According to the first-generation student support welcome site, first-generation students are defined as students who “come from families where neither of their parents completed a bachelor’s degree and/or students who identify as having minimal prior exposure to, or knowledge of, the university experience.”

According to David McCall, an assistant professor within the Retention and Student Success Deans office, first-generation students come to school with a lot of excitement and anxiety due to their lack of previous experience with higher education.

“They are the generation of trailblazers,” McCall said. “They are trying to make a change and a difference, not just for themselves but for their families. To change that direction, a lot of feelings, from excitement to anxiety, occur to be the first person to graduate in their family.”

Ferris’ faculty does their best to provide support and a community for first-generation students. They are able to do this through the First-Gen RSO and workshop. The RSO was designed to help students make connections with other first-gen students and to let them know they are not on this journey alone. The workshop was designed to help students navigate life at Ferris and connect better with faculty and allies.

“The workshop is made up of faculty who meet to learn how we can support the students,” McCall said. “Faculty volunteers, they are first-gen allies, and if students have questions on anything, they can get answers. They try to explain things as easily as possible and not send them on a ferris wheel. We try to help get them to the right person as soon as possible.”

The goal of the first-gen workshop is to eliminate difficult educational jargon and get things straightforward, so students can focus on their studies with as few worries as possible.

“We want the ability for students to support students, to ask questions and gain information,” Cindy Smith, an educational and career counselor and advisor to the first-gen RSO, said.

Smith says the organization is a safe space for first-gen students to come and interact with fun events.

“I think it’s the interest and passion of students working [that] make it a success,” Smith said. “[It offers] the ability to build connections and community around first-gen students [and] to let them know they are supported by students and by faculty.”

Both the RSO and the workshop provides students with information to help them best navigate their college experience and figure out what will lead them to their future careers.

Smith said students looking to join either group can look at their page on Bulldog Connect, Facebook or Instagram to see when their next event is. Any student can participate in their activities and become better connected within the Ferris community.