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First-Generation Student Support Creates Connections and Encourages Student Success

Tamara Cherry-Clarke, M.A. & Weston Truss, M.P.P.A., Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University / The Center / March 10, 2021

The worldwide pandemic forced all of us to think differently about how we engage students with our services, programs, and resources. At Virginia Tech, First-Generation Student Support turned those challenges into opportunities, creating new approaches to how students and peers interact with each other. The pandemic elevated pre-existing inequities for vulnerable populations, including first-generation students. During a time of social distancing, the First-gen Forward initiative helped us to realize the importance of creating an open, virtual environment through programming and resources that keeps first-generation students connected by building on their academic success, communities, and networks. Though the impact of the pandemic has kept students and peers apart, First-Generation Student Support has worked diligently to provide resources and toolkits that address students’ concerns and questions.

  • First-Generation Student Support collaborated with campus departments to provide programming and host events throughout the academic year that raise awareness about the needs and experiences of first-generation college students.

  • We furthered our partnership with Career and Professional Development to initiate the Empowering First-Gen Students discussion board. This communal environment provides participants with the ability to network, dialogue, and post content specific to their career development, experiences, and first-gen needs.

  • The Hokie Mentorship Connect (HMC) program continued to play an essential role in connecting students with mentors throughout the pandemic. This resource aims to enrich and encourage Virginia Tech students by offering opportunities to interact with industry professionals and empower them in their independence and personal responsibility.

  • We extended conversations taking place on HMC and created online discussion panels, allowing students to submit questions, seek advice, and learn about hot topics within the forums from first-gen business leaders. Career development is one of the most widely used resources by students and alumni, and interviewing during COVID-19 was a frequent discussion topic.

The First-gen Forward initiative helped us to realize the importance of creating an open, virtual environment through programming and resources that keeps first-gen students connected by building on their academic success, communities, and networks.

The benefits of mentorship relationships include fellowship, career development, and employment opportunities. Many students, especially during the course of the pandemic, have found employment through mentor connections. In addition, mentees build on essential skills, such as initiating and maintaining communication and expanding their professional networks. Mentors guide students as they navigate the various barriers experienced throughout their academic and professional careers–barriers that First-Generation Student Support aims to alleviate.

The results of a yearly data analysis show an increase in first-gen participation:

  • More than 2,680 undergraduate and 2,600 alumni additional users were added to the overall platform, for a total of 6,143 users.

  • There were 30 new mentorship relationships in 2021 and 214 mentorship relationships in total, compared to 2020 (Empowering First Gen Students, 2021).

First-Generation Student Support at Virginia Tech hopes to continue to serve as the central hub of communication for first-generation students, increasing their networking opportunities in addition to offering guidance. The online community has provided students with a place where their personal and professional growth flourishes, in addition to making lasting friendships.

For more information on Virginia Tech’s approach, please visit their website here.


Empowering First Gen Students. (2021). Spring 2021 Hokie Mentorship Connect Platform Usage.