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First to Finish: Connecting First-generation Students to Careers

Heather Crain, M.S., Tulsa Community College / The Center / March 10, 2021

When first-generation students step onto campus, they are stepping over a threshold to new possibilities. It is our job to help them navigate through their path to success. The First to Finish program is one way Tulsa Community College (TCC) has embraced this responsibility.

Through a recent survey, we realized that over 80% of first-generation students at TCC have a declared major. Also, by talking with the students, we have learned that many (if not most) come to college with a specific motivation. Our first-gen students are motivated and have a set goal in mind. They know why they are here, and they know what they want to accomplish.

However, statistically, first-generation students are less likely to complete college and earn their degrees. These dedicated students, who come in with big dreams and goals, unfortunately, are less likely to reach those goals. This is why Career Services plays such a pivotal role in first-generation student success. It’s important to not just focus on guiding first-generation students through the college process but also to help them navigate the path to a successful career.

Tulsa Community College launched the First to Finish program in 2019. This program is led by Career Services and is focused on providing first-generation students with the necessary resources and opportunities to reach their career goals. First to Finish was quickly adopted by the campus community and has continued to receive an immense amount of support.

Through First to Finish, we aim to provide resources and build community for first-gen students.

We created a Career Services Guide for first-generation students. This guide outlines what Career Services provides and a few campus services. It also features important college terms with definitions to help students better understand the college process.

It’s important to not just focus on guiding first-generation students through the college process but also to help them navigate the path to a successful career.

As a way to build community, we wanted to give students a chance to connect with first-generation faculty, staff, and employers.

We hosted an in-person event in Fall 2019 and a virtual event in Fall 2020 that featured an employer panel of local employers who were also first-generation students. The employers were able to share their experiences as first-generation students and also gave advice on career strategies and success. This was incredibly beneficial for students. Not only did this allow students to gain valuable career advice, but also, it inspired them. Several students mentioned that these events were effective because they were able to see that other first-generation students are now successful professionals in a variety of career paths.

Through First to Finish, we also wanted to strengthen community on campus. We reached out to TCC faculty and staff and asked if anyone was a first-generation student and would like to be a part of First to Finish. The response was incredible! We now have over 50 faculty and staff dedicated to helping serve first-generation students at TCC! The amazing support we have received sparked the decision to start a first-generation mentor program. We are still in the early process of building the mentor program, but are so excited to implement this new piece of First to Finish!

These examples are only a few of the projects we have done through First to Finish. We have led email and social media campaigns, virtual participatory events, shared numerous resources, and much more!

First to Finish has been, and continues to be, a great program for first-generation students. The variety of programming has provided opportunities for career readiness and a strengthened sense of community. First-generation students need direction and encouragement on their path to reaching career goals, and First to Finish has provided them with just that. We are looking forward to continuing to connect first-generation students to careers and helping first-generation students reach the goals that motivate them.

For more information on Tulsa Community College’s approach, please visit their website here.