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First-generation Center: Building Success Through TRIO Programs

Linda M. Rettig, Nykia Gaines, Benardo Dargan, Grand Valley State University / The Center / May 10, 2023


Group of Grand Valley State University students at round table

Grand Valley State University received approval to create a First-generation Center. Vice President Donta Truss spearheaded the development of the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan (SEMP). The SEMP enables distinct learner-ready strategies by harnessing strengths and resources from across Grand Valley State University. Within teams, all transformation teams, which are from multiple contingencies at all levels of the university, are empowered to ensure all students are successful. One of the SEMP teams are the First-generation Learners Recruitment and Retention Team. The leaders of this team applied for Grand Valley State University to join the First-gen Forward 2022 cohort program with NASPA and we were selected. Subsequently the team move in tandem with SEMP and First-gen Forward goals to create a first-generation college center, produce marketing, and create branding materials to education students, supporters and all community members about first-generation students.

As planning continues, we found there are programs on campus doing this work, however Federal TRIO Programs are leading the way. Grand Valley State University is home to eleven TRIO programs throughout the state of Michigan, proudly serving on campus pre-college youth and adults and college students, all of whom identify as first-generation college students.

TRIO Student Support Services methods are proven by decades of first-generation research and data. These data driven services such as intentional advising, frequent engagement, individualized support and dedicated staff have led to increased retention and graduation rates.

Our plan is to create the first-generation center using a cross institutional collaboration with the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) programs. TRIO SSS addresses the obstacles to help students and prepares them for the next step in their journey. TRIO methods are proven with persistence, good academic standings and higher rates of graduation. We know that our TRIO SSS programs are successful as seen in our 2021-2022 data from the Annual Performance Report submitted to the Department of Education in 2023.

Grand Valley State University TRIO Metrics Chart

We will begin with assessing the needs of participants in holistic ways to create a coordinated care plan.

The SEMP First-generation Learners Transformation Team proposed the following characteristics for the center:

• Create a sense of belonging using the First-Generation Center

• Schedule monthly one-on-one meetings

• Provide resources to assist students in all aspects of their academics and beyond

• Offer seminar and workshops

• Design a virtual basic college knowledge platform for students and parents/supporters

• Branding to build connections for students to the university

Lastly, to affirm buy-in from faculty, we will work with the Faculty Success Network. This program partners faculty with incoming students. Students who know their faculty may have been first-generation will add value to their experience. Faculty will be asked to come and engage with students in the new center.

The buy-in from all university members via the SEMP coupled with the TRIO model and knowledge gained via First-gen Forward; Grand Valley State University is posed to move our wheel forward to serving a larger number of first-generation students, supporters, and educators. 


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