By Emma Reilly
Starting college is a daunting task for students, regardless of their background. However, first generation college students face a unique set of obstacles.
First generation students often tackle financial and emotional challenges. They have lower retention rates. Furthermore, these students may lack the support systems that some of their peers have already established.
Although no two students’ experiences are alike, these complications cannot be ignored by the institution. WC has a responsibility to provide for and support its first generation students — which it can do by better advertising existing programs and building up encouragement between peers.
According to Interim Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Greg Krikorian, the College provides a number of resources that struggling students can take advantage of free of charge, including tutors, writing help, health services, and counseling.
While these resources are open to all students on campus, their availability may be especially comforting to first generation students who feel as though they have no place to turn for support.
According to Krikorian, more personalized assistance and guidance can be found in a mentor. Whoever that mentor may be — peer, professor, or advisor — they can help guide students as they tackle college life and work toward developing an on-campus support network.
According to freshman Kayla Thornton — who is a first generation student — first-year advisors and faculty members who give constructive advice, and invest in students’ personal goals and motivations are particularly helpful.
WC’s faculty and staff understand the important influence mentorship has on student success.
“[The College has] a relatively new program that matches…faculty and staff and Chestertown community members with first generation students to offer support and advice about college life, both academic and social,” Associate Professor of Anthropology and International Studies and Assistant Dean for Student Achievement and Retention Dr. Aaron Lampman said.
WC should strive for more of its programs to mimic the new mentorship initiative, which focuses specifically on first generation students. While broad student services are necessary, moving beyond generalizations to meet the needs of different groups is equally as essential.
Another way for the College to champion first generation students specifically is by motivating them to create student led groups and student run events.
According to Thornton, on-campus groups focused on first generation student experiences would provide beneficial support — so long as they are well-advertised.
Inspiring students to support one another is vital, as is making the availability of that support well-known.
While the College should certainly work toward connecting students with on-campus resources and mentors, it shouldn’t underestimate the power of peer-to-peer connections.
“Students learn far better from each other,” Krikorian said. “That’s the best part of a small place like WC. You have these intimate relationships where you know each other well and you can see when someone’s struggling.”
“Students can support each other by sharing information about…opportunities with each other, and by championing equity and inclusion across campus,” Dr. Lampman said.
First generation students at WC should be able to develop support systems amongst one another. Existing programs should be further developed and communicated to students. By taking these steps, the College will be investing in student success and furthering campus inclusivity efforts.
Photo by Izze Rios
Featured Photo Caption: Freshman Kayla Thornton thinks first generation students at WC can benefit from mentorship.