First Generation Symposium helps students find community on campus
Wednesday in the Michigan League, the Office of the Vice Provost of Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, along with a variety of other groups, hosted a symposium on First-generation college students.
Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs, said the goal of the event was to help first-generation students feel comfortable in the environment of the University of Michigan and aid them in them succeeding academically and socially.
“The end goal is to help (first-generation students) thrive on campus and successfully meet all of their academic and social goals and make sure the system is set up to accommodate these students,” she said.
The event, which opened to a turnout of nearly 150 students, a little more than half of whom were undergraduate students, facilitated a series of smaller group workshops that aimed to address how first-generation students continue to struggle even after being admitted to the University of Michigan.
“It’s not enough to provide access to first-generation students,” said Dilip Das, assistant vice provost for academic affairs.“We have to provide an opportunity for them and other disadvantaged students to flourish in the same way advantaged students expect to flourish when they come here.”
At one workshop, Dwight Lang, a faculty adviser to first-generation students, said first-generation students are at the highest risk of dropping out.
“I always worry about those kids in the fall,” Lang said. “If they don’t feel connected to the university quickly, they are at risk of leaving.”
In another workshop, Rod Freidhoff, Engineering Advising Center Director, noted that a prevalent theme was show to better involve faculty in the process of creating an environment where these students can thrive.
“Do we ever see students paralyzed by the number of choices presented to them?” he asked.
Graduate student Diane Back, echoed Freidhoff.
“How do we incentivize incredibly busy faculty to reach out to first-generation students and mentor them?" she asked.
This idea of mentorship continued to be a recurring theme throughout the day. Many speakers agreed mentorship was the best and most practical way to integrate disadvantaged students into the University, saying mentoring could give these students a sense of belonging in such a competitive environment.
Deborah Greene, University public affairs and media relations representative, said during the event she thought professors taking interest in these students is key to the students’ experiences.
“When a professor begins to take interest in first-generation students they begin to think, ‘I didn’t know anyone was really willing to invest time and care in me,’ ” she said.
In addition to the workshops, many University organizations came to the event to show students how to get involved on campus. Pilot — a program offering leadership and development opportunities to students in struggling communities around Michigan — was one such organization, and Pilot member Dakotah Feil, an Engineering sophomore, said the group is excited to welcome all first-generation students who want to get involved.
“The majority of our members are first-generation students, and we do a lot of work with underrepresented students on campus, so we’re really looking for new members,” she said. “We’re just looking for passionate people.”