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Faculty, Staff Panel Talks Advancing First-Gen Outcomes

Published on 11/6/2020 1:57:29 PM
By Andrew Barker

The Routh First-Generation Center staff and the Texas A&M First-Gen Forward Committee hosted a virtual faculty and staff panel on November 5 to provide insights on existing first-generation practices, policies, and programmatic efforts. As part of the First-Generation College Celebration week, the entire Texas A&M community was invited to hear from the panelists and discuss ways in which the university could advance first-generation student outcomes. With a first-generation population of 25% and its commitment to first-generation student success, Texas A&M University is considered a First-Gen Forward institution.
 
“This designation as a First-Gen Forward institution has really opened the door to collaborate with first-gen programs,” said Kelley O’Neal, Director of the Byrne Student Success Center. O’Neal leads all retention and persistence programming for the College of Education and Human Development. The Byrne Student Success Center provides students within the College of Education & Human Development with access to advising, learning support, student, and career development services.
 
“It’s not just pockets of first-gen programming around campus,” said O’Neal. “We want to bring all of these programs together so they know we are a strong unit and doing really good work.”
 
Program Coordinator of the Science Leadership Scholars (SLS) Victor Castillo emphasized this idea of collaboration. Castillo advises all SLS and Regents’ Scholars in the College of Science and works with retention on all first-generation students in the college.
 
“I always tell my students that they might fail the first round of exams, and I have to explain to them that it happens,” said Castillo. “We’re in unknown territory, but we can do it together. But sometimes their parents would tell them to quit and come home. That’s why it’s important that we share our ideas and programming to see what is working. It’s important to show our students that A&M actually cares.”
 
Dr. Jacqueline Turner, Research Specialist in the College of Education and Human Development, discussed her experience as a first-generation student. Her work involves identifying support systems that allow students to be successful through college and gainful employment or graduate school.
 
“It’s important to know that our first-gen students become first-gen professionals,” said Turner. “I was raised to be an independent, strong Latina woman, [but] I couldn’t do it by myself. It took years and years of recognizing that I needed to figure out how to find help to be successful.”
 
When polled about what the difficulties of being a first-generation student, faculty, or staff member, the audience noted feelings of confusion and uncertainty for both themselves and their families. Turner mentioned how much it means to her family now that she understands what it takes to pursue higher education.
 
“You start laying the groundwork for success in your family and that’s the good part,” Turner said. “We stand on the shoulder of giants and I want to be that, not just for my family, but students at Texas A&M.”
 
Among other topics discussed during the panel was the hidden curriculum: higher education norms, demands, and expectations that first-generation students are usually unaware of when they go to college. The panel discussed steps faculty and staff could take in order to make the hidden curriculum accessible to first-generation students.
 
Normalize Asking for Help
“It’s not so much that our students are stubborn,” said Dr. Leticia Palomin, Program Coordinator for the Routh First-Generation Center and panel moderator. “It’s just that based on lived experiences, they have had to navigate everything on their own. It helps to normalize the idea that it’s okay to ask for help. That’s what we’re here for, and to develop those personal relationships with our students.”
 
Build Trust
“I was stubborn too,” joked Castillo as he discussed his experience as a first-generation student at Texas A&M before joining the staff as an advisor. “[First-gen students think] I’ve done everything on my own; why is this person helping me? I think the hardest part of my job – and I think my success shows from it – is gaining that trust that first year.”
 
Cultivate Involvement
“One of things you can do for first-gen students is introduce them to people,” said O’Neal. “Nominate them for awards on campus and nationwide. If you need a student for a committee, find a first-gen student for that committee. That’s giving them the experience to not only move forward academically, but to move forward in their professional career.”
 
About the Routh First-Generation Center
The Routh First-Generation Center, under the direction of the Office for Student Success, is dedicated to providing support to all first-generation students at Texas A&M University. Support for our students includes programs and advocacy for students as well as coordination, professional development, and advocacy for the faculty and staff that work with them. More information. 

About First-Gen Forward
The mission of Texas A&M First-Gen Forward committee is to increase the awareness of campus first-generation student initiatives, highlight existing evidence-based practices tailored for first-generation students, and provide a space for faculty and staff who are first-generation or advocates and work with first-generation students. The First-Gen Forward committee is currently working on identifying next steps of extending the invitation for campus representatives who are first-generation or are advocates and work with first-generation students to gather and establish collaboration efforts focused on first-generation students. More information.