Outreach to the First-generation Community through Digital Technology

Katherine Lawlor, M.Ed., Northern Arizona University / The Center / August 05, 2021

In August 2019 at Northern Arizona University (NAU), the Office of First-Generation Programs began a pilot program to help us increase our outreach efforts to students beyond our mentoring programs. The main idea was to provide first-generation college students an avenue to learn the same concepts being taught in our First Scholars mentoring program. This blog post offers a short reflection explaining how we have attempted to scale our efforts over the 2020-21 academic year. As we return to campus, our office plans to continue to leverage technology to outreach and create a supportive community for our first-generation students.

First-Generation Pathways 

By using a technology-based platform that gamifies involvement and provides varying levels of engagement opportunities, our office has been able to expand our outreach to meet students where they are in their educational journeys. This platform is available to all 11,000 first-generation college students across our 20 statewide and online campus locations. In the 2020-21 academic year, students were sent a biweekly email through the platform sharing opportunities for involvement with an average open rate of 54%. There were 701 students who participated in one activity or more in the 2020-21 academic year with 500 of those students being individuals who were not previously in one of our mentoring programs. In the future, we plan on adding more content about the first-generation college student experience and how to navigate the university environment.

Tri-Alpha Honor Society 

In the 2020-21 academic year, the Office of First-Generation Programs established a Tri-Alpha chapter. In our work to reach additional students not previously connected to our office, the honor society provided the opportunity to invite first-generation graduate students, staff, faculty, and NAU alumni members to join. In February 2021, 96 members were inducted into our first member class, which included undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty, and staff members. In the future, we will continue to offer virtual and hybrid programming events for students at our online and statewide campus locations. At least 45 members of the first class are located outside of the Flagstaff-Mountain campus.

NAU1stGen Social Media

We were able to grow our Instagram followership by 500 as well as added Twitter and YouTube as platforms. The most popular series this year was our first-generation graduation highlights, which shared the individual stories of each graduate who chose to participate. By using WordPress and adding a form to our First-Generation Convocation webpage, we were able to collect 50 submissions from the Fall 2020 graduates and 60 submissions from the Spring 2021 graduates. We also created a similar form to collect submissions from students to post on our various social media platforms throughout the academic year. When we surveyed students after events, students often stated they saw a flyer about the event on Instagram. We partnered with the Education Abroad office at the university to tag @NAU1stGen so we can also highlight our first-generation college students who are studying abroad. In the future, we plan to hire a first-generation college student worker to help us engage with our audience.

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