First Day In. Last Day Out.

Susan Powell-Jones, Arianna Hudson, Jackson State University / The Center / May 15, 2024

Jackson State University NM Blog first-gen students

August 2, 2023 was the beginning of a new and exciting adventure on the campus of Jackson State University (JSU). Six upper classmen returned to campus to mentor, share, motivate and encourage our first cohort of First-Gen Scholars. Some had no clue of what “First-gen” means. However, the more they learned about first-gen, the more committed and excited they became. Most of them realized that they too were first-gen. The realization that they will be helping young people who they can truly identified with, made the training and desire to serve even more impactful.

By August 6, 2023 they were trained and ready for the First-Gen Scholars to move in. August 6, 2023 is here; the moment we have been waiting for. First-Gen Staff and Ambassadors eagerly await the arrival of our first 51 First-Gen Scholars. One-by-one they nervously checked in. Parents with a sense of pride and joy on their faces, excited about the new journey their child is about to embark upon, so they thought, until they stood in line only to be told the amount they owe is much more than anticipated. With frustration on their faces, the First-Gen Staff were ready for what was about to happen. After touring the campus and meeting their ambassadors, the scholars were ready to explore the journey of college without parental guidance. Of course, the parents had a different perspective on leaving their child. After our two-hour meeting with the parents reassuring them that you child is in great hands, it was now time for the parents to leave to let the real work began. The scholars spent the first week learning how to navigate being on JSU’s campus. Between the Dean of Students, Career Services, Tiger Closet, Latasha Norman Counseling Center, Financial Aid, and Academic Advising to name a few, we can almost see the look of defeat on their faces with all the information they had to absorb. But their willingness to endure the struggle was surreal.

Jackson State University NM Blog first-gen mentors
On August 10, 2023. the returning students began to make their transition back to campus we were able to spend some last-minute time with the First-Gen Scholars to make sure they were set for classes to start. At that time, the First Gen-Scholars received their instructions on what our expectations are as participants in the program. The Scholars had weekly mandatory supervised study hours and must attend our monthly meetings.

As the scholars began their journey as a college student, the First-Gen staff was readily available to answer questions, provide resources and listen to their many challenges. We had the opportunity to celebrate National First-Generation Celebration Day over a span of three days in collaboration with the TRIO programs. We hosted our first Day of Giving to generate scholarships for the First-Gen Scholars. Celebrating National First-Generation Celebration Day gave us the opportunity to share information to the JSU campus community. MADD Drama (a performing arts program) performed and provided insight into what being a First-Gen is all about. The scholars had the opportunity to have professional headshots taken and interact with Faculty during a Faculty Mixer.

Making the decision to take the scholars on a Graduate College Tour was rewarding and uplifting for the First-Gen Scholars. Having the opportunity to hear from their peers from other institutions who were enrolled in graduate school and who were also First-Gen Students.

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When the scholars returned to campus to begin their Spring Semester, we still noticed that some of the scholars were struggling to adjust. One-on-one meetings were conducted to see how we can get them back on track. Those meetings gave us an opportunity to address their issues and concerns. Our monthly meeting in January addressed “Bouncing Back” which was a time to encourage those who did not have a successful first semester. We used that time to encourage, motivate, and reward the scholars for their hard work during the first semester. After assessing the needs of the scholars, we used the second semester focusing on Mental and Physical Well-being. We used this time to connect the student with resources available on campus that will assist with their mental and physical well-being.

One of the assignments was to give back. Therefore, the scholars participated in National Read Day on March 1, 2024. One of the most rewarding experiences the students had was the opportunity to attend the First-Gen Leadership conference in Miami, Florida. There they were able to gain some insight on serving as a leader as a first-generation student. Seeing so many students that look like them. Hearing speakers who have overcame challenges as a first-gen student was inspirational. As the semester comes to an end, we wanted to spend some time to recognize the scholars for their tenacity. As we prepare to welcome our second cohort of students we hope the program will continue to expand across campus. Immediate plans are in place to establish a Registered Student Organization and then charter a Tri-Alpha chapter on campus.

For more information on Jackson State University's approach, please visit their website here.