Engaging First-gen Faculty and Staff in Meaningful Way

Julie Carballo M.Ed., North Central College / The Center / March 20, 2020

North Central College FF

At North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, 43% of our students and 125 members of the faculty and staff proudly identify as first-generation.

As we all know, the first-gen identity is an invisible identity, but the faculty and staff at North Central make it as visible as possible. We all:

  • Have signs outside their offices sharing their first-gen status and inviting all first-gen students to stop by to talk;
  • Have Cardinal First t-shirts or jackets they proudly wear regularly on campus;
  • Have their North Central website profiles linked to our Cardinal First website; and
  • Proudly have their names on the list of first-gen faculty and staff that is on every table at every one of the 127 workshops we offer throughout the academic year.

Research indicates that first-gen students are less likely than their peers to engage with faculty both inside and outside of the classroom. The first-generation initiatives at North Central proactively foster engagement and mentoring relationships among our first-gen students and faculty and staff in a variety of ways.

  • At our Cardinal First Friday workshops on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month (offered at 4 consecutive times), a different “first-gen faculty guest” attends each workshop to visit with each table of first-year students at the start of the event and then briefly share a snippet of their own first-gen, first-year experience.
    North Central College First-gen Faculty
  • At our monthly Cardinal First Sophomore Suppers which engage 140 first-gen sophomores, twelve different first-gen faculty/staff members serve as table hosts at each supper. The intent is to foster conversation between our sophomores and faculty (professional dining etiquette is also incorporated).
  • At our Cardinal First Transition workshops for our new transfer students during their first semester at North Central, we offer a series of four lunch workshops and have a different first-gen faculty member—who also transferred during their undergraduate experience—join the group for lunch and share their first-gen transfer story and strategies they used to maximize their experience at the new institution.
  • A newer initiative on our campus is to have department-specific first-gen groups facilitated by a professor in that department with the intent of connecting these students to each other, to timely information and opportunities related to their major(s) and to a faculty member in their major. Currently, we have faculty members spearheading the following groups: FirstGenChem, Code First, Media First, Health First, Psychology & Neuroscience First, Business & Entrepreneurship First, English First, Primera generación de pregrado en español and more preparing to launch Fall 2020.
  • As we all adjust to new ways of living and learning as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, our first-gen faculty and staff have agreed to invite our first-gen students into their homes (virtually, of course, and either live or by video) to see how the faculty members are organizing themselves, their workspace and their time now and to introduce us to their families, pets, etc.

North Central College First-gen Staff and Faculty
Since Fall 2015, the first-to-second year retention rate for Cardinal First participants has averaged 93% (with average cohort size of 100). When surveyed, the students consistently rate the opportunity to engage with first-gen faculty and staff as one of the most beneficial components of the program. I am often asked if our faculty and staff receive compensation for their involvement -- they do not. They volunteer willingly because they are passionate about supporting and engaging our first-gen students and they find the time spent doing so to be meaningful, fulfilling and fun.


North Central College is proud to have been designated as a First-gen Forward Advisory Institution in the inaugural 2019-20 cohort. Please check out the Cardinal First website for more information.