Mentoring and Celebration for First-gens at Tusculum University

Rachael Barnett, M.A., Tusculum University / The Center / February 10, 2021

Tusculum University (TU) in east Tennessee is a small, private institution where over 50% of our student body is considered first-generation. Our institution is home to seven TRIO programs, including two Student Support Services (SSS), two Upward Bound, one Upward Bound Math/Science, and two Educational Talent Search initiatives. Because of this, our institution has a long history of support and celebration of first-generation students. In addition, many of our staff and faculty also identify as first in their families to have attended college.

With encouragement from our provost, Dr. Tricia Hunsader, Tusculum’s Student Support Services program staff initiated our application to the First-Gen Forward Cohort for 2020. We have spent the last two years increasing our exposure across our campus and facilitating new support systems for our first-generation students.

Personally Engaged Enrichment Program (PEEPS)

One of our TRIO SSS programs is called ARCHES (Adults Reaching Career Heights and Educational Success) and serves our Adult and Online Studies (AOS) students. Most of these first-generation students are adult learners balancing families, full-time work, and completion of their first bachelor’s degree. This year, we have launched a mentor program called PEEPS in which current upper class students or recent ARCHES alumni will offer support, mentoring, and social integration into our ARCHES program and the life of our institution as an adult learner.

With busy life schedules and a majority of their work online, AOS students often struggle to integrate fully and feel accepted into the TU network. Our PEEPS will offer them connection, advice, and insight that comes from first-hand experience as an adult learner. The PEEPS are recent alums or current students who have connected with staff and know the “culture” of navigating higher education as a first-generation adult student. These mentor relationships can offer our students more support and intentional relationships that will ultimately lead to retention and graduation.

First-Generation Celebration Week

In November of 2020, Tusculum had to create a unique way to virtually celebrate our first-generation students in acknowledgement of First-Generation College Celebration Day on November 8. Our team solicited photos and testimonies from current and former students. Over the course of two weeks, we highlighted 26 students and alumni on Tusculum’s social media accounts. They shared their personal testimonies of pride and hope as first-generation college students at Tusculum University. Erika Nicole Witt, Class of 2012 shared the following: “My advice to future first-generation college students is to seize every opportunity your college and degree program can offer you. Thanks to SSS, I was able to find a graduate school in New Orleans after being inspired by an SSS trip. Thanks to Tusculum, I was extremely prepared for graduate school and the job market within my career field.”

For more information on Tusculum University’s approach, please visit their website here.