Kent State Paves the Way for First-Generation Student Success
Kent State University is one of 21 institutions that has advanced to the first phase of the First Scholars Network. Powered by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, the First Scholars Network is a four-phase program that allows institutions of higher education to advance outcomes for first-generation students by establishing communities of practice, gaining knowledge of resources and establishing peer networks.
A five-person team at Kent State was assembled to deepen the university’s commitment to first generation students. Liz Piatt, Ph.D., assistant dean for academic diversity success in University College; Lamar R. Hylton, Ph.D., senior vice president of student affairs; Eboni J. Pringle, Ph.D., senior associate vice president for student access and support and dean of University College; Randall Lennox, senior institutional research information officer, and Melanie Jones, director of academic diversity outreach in University College.
In this first phase of the network, Piatt and her team members are working in a 90-day cycle. During this time they will be collecting data and developing goals to implement a course of action to better support these students.
“This first phase requires us to take a deep dive into the data [on] students we have,” Piatt said. “If we can understand where the pain points are for first-gen students, which make up about 40% of our student population, then we can do some things to address those. It's going to be a lot of work, but it's going to be good work.”
Since advancing to the first phase, Piatt and her team continue to work diligently to set goals and enforce them.
“Every month we meet with a coach to help us stay accountable to the goals that we set. Right now we're collecting data from faculty and staff to see what they understand about first-gen students at Kent State,” Piatt said. “Based on that data, we're going to come up with some goals that we want to accomplish over the next few years.”
One issue that Piatt has noticed is the apprehension that students feel toward asking for help when they need it.
“It’s an issue with a lot of students on college campuses,” Piatt said. “We've been trying to work on changing that culture of not asking for help and sending messages to all students about how it's okay. Ask for help when you need it.”
Piatt believes that often there are misconceptions about first-generation students. First-generation students are hardworking and have many academic skills like everyone else.
“I think too often, people think about first-generation students in terms of what they don't have when they come to the university because they don't have somebody in their family who can tell them things that they need to know about college,” Piatt said. “I have noticed in my work that they are really self reliant, and they’re really good at managing multiple responsibilities.”
If first-generation students are looking for support, there are many resources that can be found on campus: Academic Advising, Career Services, I Am First celebration week, TRIO Programs, and Merit Scholarships.
“First-gen students are resilient go-getters. They come here with the attitude of ‘nothing's gonna stop me,’ and they think about the impact they’ll have on their family when they graduate,” Piatt said. “That's the coolest thing about being a first-gen graduate. Knowing that degree doesn’t just impact that student, it impacts their entire family. It really does have a multi-generational ripple effect. That's one of the most important reasons for us to do this work.”