From First-Gen Friday to First-Gen Empowered
Lamesha Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota − Crookston / The Center / March 13, 2020
When I started my position in June 2019, I was so excited to know that the University of Minnesota−Crookston had been designated as one of 80 inaugural First-gen Forward institutions! My own identity as a first-generation college graduate, along with my work as a co-creator of #FirstGenDocs made me all the more enthusiastic to start my journey as Director of our Student Success Center and begin the work of ensuring that our first-generation students felt a strong sense of belonging.
I started off the school year with the idea to do First-Gen Fridays. For one thing I thought the name was catchy and I thought that Fridays would be a great day to have an event since things are typically slower on college campuses. The first event, which was geared towards first-generation students, staff, and faculty, to build a sense of community, resulted in several staff and faculty attending but to our surprise NO students. The next event we planned was also not successful in terms of student participation. When we planned our event for National First-Generation Celebration Day, we had plenty of students, staff, and faculty stopping by to decorate their number one-shaped cookies, take photos with a variety of photo booth props, and share why they were proud to be first-gen. The last program that we tried to do in December was again, not successful. At that point, I had some interns from the Student Success Center and asked them what we needed to do. Their suggestion was to switch the day of the week. And, of course, if we changed the date we would have to change the name of the program.
The interns had some time to think through this idea and when they returned for this semester (Spring 2020) we began planning for what would be our First-Gen Empowered program; slated for the fourth Thursday of each month. For our February event, we had four students show up. One of those students actually came into the space for another reason and was recruited to stay as they were indeed first-generation. Though the attendance was low, we saw this as an improvement since previous events, other than the celebration day, yielded no student participation. This month’s event will be postponed until next month. However, we are hopeful that the next program, which will focus on career development, will bring even more students to the program.
With all this shared, I would like to add one of my personal lessons learned in this process. As eager as I was to get to work with planning an initial event, I did not do my due diligence. What I should have done first was talk with various constituents within the campus community including, students, my team, and other staff who plan programs to learn more about the campus and what tends to work or not work. To those of you who are experiencing the same thing, talk with students, make the necessary changes, and be encouraged as you work to better support your first-generation college students.
To learn more about the University of Minnesota−Crookston's first-gen initiatives, click here.