“We’ve heard of students who’ve shown up and didn’t understand they would need to purchase textbooks. We’ve had a student show up on move-in day without sheets for her bed because she didn’t know she needed to bring them. The entire college experience, some of the things we take for granted that we already know—young students show up and have no clue,” Amber Jackson, the Program Manager for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, said on the need for 1stGEN@HDX. Both she and Dr. Dionne Jackson, the Chief Diversity Officer, were first-generation students themselves, and the new program is something they’re passionate about. The project proposal was written up by the spring semester last year, and Amber Jackson said that she has high hopes it will receive funding soon. Until then, the office has started to roll out the program using their current budget.
First-generation students—students whose parents or legal guardians have not completed a degree—are invited to receive mentoring and support through 1stGEN@HDX. Amber Jackson estimates that about 10-15% of the population at Hendrix is first-generation, and unlike others whose parents attended college, these students generally struggle without a support system. “[With] some of them, when there isn’t an understanding of the value of higher education, we see a pull from back home. Their parents think they’ve done fine without an education,” she said. Even with a supportive family, some of these students still lack someone who can tell them what to expect from college.
“There are more complicated problems, like not understanding the degree progression, what kind of courses need to be taken, [how to] take care of your Odyssey project so it’s not put off until senior year, [getting] your physical education credits out of the way. It’s a luxury for students whose parents and siblings have been through college; they already know some of these things. They know they might have to write a thesis in their senior year, they know to get some of their requirements out of the way,” Amber Jackson said. Beyond these obstacles, students often don’t know what kind of support is on campus, and many of them are embarrassed to ask for it. In addition to confusion about the specifics of college life, many first-generation students experience imposter syndrome, feelings of inferiority, or fear of failure. The program aims to combat those problems by helping students adjust to academic and dorm life and by fostering a welcoming community where first-generation students are encouraged to seek assistance.
Phase one of 1stGEN@HDX provides freshmen and sophomores with mentors, many of whom are first-generation college graduates employed by Hendrix. Mentees meet with mentors two times per month over the course of two years. In addition, the program offers workshops and seminars aimed toward educating students and their families about college life. In phase two, students are encouraged to attend workshops aimed at transitioning to the workforce or graduate school.
Although the program is in its early stages, Amber Jackson hopes that the program will expand in the future so that every first-generation student can participate. “It was nice to have the opportunity to do a slower roll-out to see how our ideas are playing out. We’ll seek student and mentor feedback. That’s an ongoing and important process—to seek out the needs of the community,” Amber Jackson said. For now, mentors in the program are volunteers, but the program hopes to provide small stipends in the future, which would allow more interaction with mentees.
The program encourages students who are not first-generation to get involved as well. “It takes a village,” Amber Jackson said. “It’s important for students to own their privileges, to reach out and support others who don’t have those privileges.”
First-generation students interested in the program should reach out to the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Amber Jackson said, “We want to make the distinction that being first-generation is something to be proud of, not to be embarrassed by. We’re just trying to help make up for that deficit of knowledge and experience.”