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Our second Provisions session of the year explored the theme of Teaching First Generation Students. Presenters shared previous experience with teaching first generation students, and effective strategies for improving success for first generation students. An audience of approximately 35 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Lai-Monté Hunter, Director of Intercultural Leadership, Gina Occhiogrosso, Associate Professor of Art and Foundations Coordinator, and Jeff Marlett, Professor of Philosophy/Religious Studies.

Lai-Monté Hunter started off the session by introducing the ALANA is Leadership mentoring program. This mentorship program was developed to help and offer support to first generation and first year college students. Comprised of a cohort of 60, ALANA is Leadership focuses on what these students are coming to college with, and in most cases what disadvantages the students are starting off with.  Most of these students experience a lack of support from home, a lack of financial information, and a general sense of being unprepared. First generation students face numerous challenges, including: a lack of support, pressure to succeed, role reversal (students are now more educated than their parents), and a lack of information about the accessibility of help. Peer mentors offer support and guidance, and students are typically more receptive to information from peers. Lai-Monté mentioned that he receives messages from the First Alert System when students are performing lower than they should be. This system allows for Lai-Monté and other faculty members to intervene early on, in order to prevent failing and drop out. Lai-Monté said that in order to help these first generation students achieve success, ALANA is Leadership provides a variety of sources for information. Some examples of what ALANA is Leadership can provide a student with are:

  • information about managing finances
  • learning to juggle a full-time job with a full-time student schedule
  • learning to become integrated in the school community
  • an outlet for professional development
  • peer mentors leaders
  • prevention of dropping out or leaving without a degree
  • learning to deal with feeling marginalized at both home and on campus
  • learning to deal with cultural difficulties on campus
  • ways to develop self-advocay skills

In addition to ALANA is Leadership, it is important for professors to be available and accessible to students. First generation students are often unaware that professors are there to help them succeed. They typically do not know that it is “okay” to ask for help. Lai-Monté included the following list of what a professor should provide for their students, especially first generation students.

  • accessibility/availability- make yourself available
  • ability to listen- give your full attention
  • support- encourage students to learn and improve
  • practical- remain on task
  • guidance- give direction without pushing
  • insight- share personal experiences to show students that you’re human
  • specificity- what needs to be done, what has been done well, & what needs to be corrected
  • education- how you got to be where you are now
  • ability to foster success- have encouraging conversations beyond academics

Second to present was Gina Occhiogrosso (powerpoint presentation will be available soon).  Gina started off her presentation by explaining the Art 100 Foundation Seminar, which is a 1.0 credit (approximately 15.5 hours) course. She discussed the course requirements and said that the assignment for the course was to create a public art piece to be displayed on campus in the empty space next to Massry. In the beginning of the course, as Lai-Monté suggested in his presentation, Gina and her colleagues discussed their own college experiences. Explaining how they got where they were showed the students that they too faced challenges in the process. This course allowed for students to become acclimated to the campus, as well as to other students and faculty.

Eight groups of five were randomly formed based on students’ talent areas. For example, she picked students talented in photography and placed each one in a separate group. This way each group had someone talented in photography, writing, drawing…and so on. In the groups, students were able to discuss their common interests. There were some restrictions placed on the class assignment, but the students also had plenty of room to be creative with their ideas. At the end of the semester, the groups presented their public art pieces to the class. Each group member was required to speak at least once during their presentation. Last year’s winning public art piece included a swing-set and a musical stage for performing. Gina said that for next year’s class, she should add more restrictions to the assignment. Her students thought that more restrictions would make creating a public art piece easier. Gina mentioned near the end of her presentation, that she also receives messages from the First Alert System, which allows her to intervene before it is too late for a student.

Last to present was Jeff Marlett. Jeff started off his presentation by explaining that, in contrast to Lai-Monté and Gina, he works with students of all majors and he gets to see all students on campus, even though it may only be once. He refers to his department (Ethics, Values, & Religious Studies) as the “Iceberg Department”, because there is a little bit above the surface, but a lot more underneath. Jeff mentioned that in 2008, he was asked to give a presentation for a previous Provision’s session, Teaching First Year Students. He spoke about an academic student and learning outcome assessment program that he and some colleagues started in 2008. Jeff’s main focal point of the presentation was about bridging the gap between instructors and their class material. Through the use of humor, personal narratives, and popular culture,  Jeff believes he can help bridge the gap. He said he shares his own narratives, sometimes with the use of profanity, to show the students that “he is alive.” He believes that use of his own narratives will encourage students to find and tell their own, in order to connect with the material.  Popular culture and social media serve as a framework for first year college students because it shows the similarities between the students. He said that it doesn’t matter where the college students come from because they have the same technology to “level the playing field.” The leveling experience of all student’s being subjected to the same expectations shows them that “we’re all in this together.” Regardless of which generation a student is, Jeff ultimately wants his students to be connected with the material and to be able to discuss the material appropriately.

Following the presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience. Here are a few points and observations that arose from discussion:

  • It is not uncommon for first year/first generation students to be unaware of the expectations and responsibilities of college.
  • Self-regulation and autonomy skills are essential for college success but often require improvement.
  • Bridging the gap by clearly defining expectations of college, and by being aware of assumptions.
  • There is a need for improved communication among faculty, and among the campus as a whole.
  • Faculty need to communicate their accessibility and availability to students, and also make sure to be flexible in the process.
  • Should professor expectations vary for first generation students?

Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, November 17th session on “Teaching Non-Traditional Students. Provisions’ sessions are from 12:-00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!!

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