Giving Students the "Scoop" on College

Erin Colwell M.Ed. , Old Dominion University / The Center / November 04, 2019

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First-generation students are close to the heart of Old Dominion University. Not only do they make up over 30% of our student body, but many of our faculty and staff identify as first-gen; including our President, Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services, and Vice Provost. Our campus is dedicated to supporting our first-generation students, which resulted in our designation as First Forward Institution, this past year. While we as faculty and staff know about the great programs and services available to our students, we found that many first-generation students often are not aware of the opportunities that exist on campus.

To remedy this, last month ODU’s First-Generation Team hosted a “First Scoop” ice cream social kick-off, where we invited students to come and connect with other first-generation students, faculty and staff. Since, the first few weeks of the semester are jam-packed with events, we decided to host this social event where the theme was connection. Although the event was advertised as an ice cream social, we strategically enlisted members of our First-Generation Faculty mentoring program and Success Coaches to help facilitate conversations with the students so that they could organically discuss their programs and other resources available to support our first-generation students on campus. We used the concept of quick connect “speed dating” to engage attendees in conversation by having the faculty and staff members rotate across student tables every two minutes. Conversation starters written on popsicle sticks were placed in the middle of each table to help spur conversation.

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Some examples of the conversation starters included:

For Faculty/Staff:

  • “How has earning a college degree changed your family, your life path, etc.?”
  • “How did you overcome obstacles in college and in your career?”

For students:

  • “Why did you choose to attend college?”
  • “What is one thing that you are most looking forward to doing at ODU?”

In total, 35 students and 25 faculty/staff members attended “First Scoop” and were surveyed about the event via email afterwards.

Highlights of the survey included:

  • 66% said they learned a great deal of information about ODU’s First-Generation Initiatives
  • 75% said the “quick connect” activity was helpful in learning about resources for First-Generation students
  • 83.3% said they were very likely to attend other First-Generation events in the future

The survey results were overwhelmingly positive, but the success of the event is best summed up by the student’s own words: “It was so much fun meeting first-generation students and professors. I learned a lot about how they coped with it and how they managed to do it.” Another student shared: “I appreciate the First Gen community, and attending the event made me feel less alone and re-energized with my college journey. I had many of my questions answered by the faculty, even questions that had nothing to do with school and more about navigating life in general.”

In the end, isn’t our goal as student affairs professionals to engage and energize our students, and motivate them to be successful both in college and beyond? This event reinforced the importance of making our first-generation students feel connected and heard, an important reminder as we continue to look at our how campus can best support them moving forward.

For more information, visit ODU’s First-Generation initiatives.