Supporting First-Generation Longhorns: Importance of Student Voice at the University of Texas at Austin

Mike Gutierrez M.Ed., University of Texas at Austin / The Center / January 20, 2020

UT Austin FF

At the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), we are working with first-generation college students, researching their experiences to gain a better understanding of how to effectively serve all first-generation Longhorns. During the spring 2018 semester, the University formed a campus-wide working group committed to working with first-generation Longhorns and particularly to increase success outcomes. As a first-generation Longhorn myself, I am one of the many staff members on this working group along with other faculty, staff, undergraduate, and graduate students. I share the same passion for serving first-generation students as many other members and enjoy working with students throughout the school year. Centering the experiences and needs of our students on campus is a vital component of our focus on first-generation Longhorns.

One of the initiatives that branched from this committee was gathering the student voice through a series of focus groups conducted during spring 2019. These focus groups were a way to gain important insight into the student experience, get to know students outside of the classroom, and examine what areas our policies and programs could improve. Gathering student feedback is crucial for bringing new ideas toward actionable items as well as learning the needs directly from the students. We asked students about their overall experience at UT Austin and what suggestions they had for the university.

UT Austin Students
A shared idea students had in regards to programming was when many described how belonging to a small community of first-generation students, in this case a first-year interest group (FIG), would benefit all first-generation students and provide an avenue to meet more first-generation Longhorns. These discussions were considered when the College of Natural Sciences developed a FIG specifically for first-year, first-generation college students to assist in their transition to UT Austin and provide a space for questions, concerns, and build community. The creation of the small community was a student-driven project and only reinforces the importance of student input toward programming.

Another space for student interaction and feedback occurred during the second annual First-Generation College Celebration in November 2019. During the event, a first-year first-generation Longhorn surveyed students for an assignment in a first-year signature course. Questions included how satisfied students were with their college experience so far, what their biggest accomplishments and struggles were, and things they would change. Many students shared the difficulty of being able to relay to their parents what the college experience is like because they are first-generation and felt a disconnect in this regard. The following quote highlights the need for continued support for these students:

“Even though we all started at the same school, I feel like I was stuck at the start line and everyone else was already running the race."

First-generation college students face many challenges and it is our responsibility as supporters on campus to ensure they feel welcomed and have the tools to succeed. As we continue the 2019-2020 academic year, I look forward toward building on previous programming and assisting these students on their path toward timely graduation.

For more information visit First-Generation Longhorns.