Building the Raft for Our First-generation Otters

Michael Dorsch & Purvi Shah, California State University, Monterey Bay / The Center / August 25, 2021

First-generation Students at CSUMB

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) is a relatively young university (27 years old) with history still to be made. Our undergraduate student population is 53% first-generation (as of Fall 2020). In addition, our graduate student cohort that began in Fall 2020 was 50% first-generation. As our student population has grown, we have continued to serve a primarily first-generation student population with our support services and initiatives–thereby expanding our otter raft.

First-generation Initiatives at CSUMB

The First-Year Success (formerly Project Higher Ground) Living-Learning Community provides a dedicated housing environment for TRiO students, CAMP students, first-generation students, and other students who want extra support in their first year at CSUMB. Resident Advisors (RAs) help connect students to campus traditions, academic resources, and success strategies. Students take a class with other community members that relates to their major pathways so they can build a peer learning community. The Departments of Student Housing and Residential Life and College Support Programs collaborate on this initiative.

Our annual First-Generation Celebration is an innovative and student-centered initiative designed to celebrate and promote first-generation retention and completion rates (thereby advancing first-generation college student success) while ensuring first-generation experiences are woven into the culture and climate of the university. The celebration is made possible through campuswide partnerships among the College Support Programs, the Office of Inclusive Excellence and Sustainability, the Otter Cross Culture Center, and other campus resources. Workshops geared toward storytelling and resources, coupled with a dynamic keynote (College Support Programs, OC3 and OIE), will set the stage for a motivating and inspiring celebration of the first-generation college student identity.

One of our campus’ goals is to normalize the first-generation identity by connecting students to former first-generation faculty and staff with the First, But Not Alone initiative and the First-Generation Faculty and Staff Directory.

Our First-Generation Forward Committee, created at the inception of our journey to become a First-gen Forward institution, was chartered to help identify areas of strength and areas for growth at CSUMB and includes key campus functional areas both within and outside of student affairs. We have institutional support from Cabinet leadership on this endeavor.

Plans for the Upcoming Academic Year

Our First-Generation Forward Committee has been working to better understand first-generation student success at CSUMB by using institutional data to track course outcomes and retention and graduation rates so that we may identify where additional support services may be needed. Our committee is currently working on creating a comprehensive list of strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats that will be developed into a five-year plan. This plan will include promoting scholarship opportunities; strengthening first-generation-focused curricular and co-curricular support systems through avenues such as our living-learning community, the RAFT Peer Mentoring program, and faculty/staff mentoring; and sharing first-generation success stories through University Communications and University Advancement materials.

For more information on California State University, Monterey Bay’s approach, please visit their website here.