Help first-generation college students see how staff support their needs

Expert Insight

Help first-generation college students see how staff support their needs

First-generation college students often struggle to adjust to campus life, both socially and academically, and many ultimately end up questioning their decision to pursue higher education. These questions and thoughts quickly become very isolating when first-generation college students can’t find others to talk to who are going through the same things.

Many student populations come together naturally to support each another. Minority students, international students, and athletes are easily identifiable to one another, which makes connecting easy. First-generation status, on the other hand, has no external characteristics and is sometimes unknown even to the students themselves. That is why institutions should be proactive about connecting these students with on-campus support networks to help relieve feelings of isolation.

Campus support campaign at the University of Rochester

The University of Rochester developed a campaign to both visibly show their support of first-generation college students and help these students find the resources they need. Inspired by similar “Safe Zone” campaigns for LGBTQ students on campus, Rochester came up with a decal distribution campaign know as “1st ONE.” Any individuals or offices on campus that actively support or provide resources to first-generation college students prominently display the decal. Not only did this campaign help first-generation students feel less isolated on campus, but it also helped them find the specific resources they need in order to transition to campus life and succeed at Rochester.

Faculty and staff across campus were notified about the campaign via email. Anyone who was interested in displaying one of the decals in their office or on their door was encouraged to participate. By displaying a decal, students would know that the person in that office was an advocate for first-generation college students and would be happy to answer their questions about any aspect of student life.

The individuals who requested a decal were also provided an informational one-page sheet about the first-generation college student population on campus, their needs, and ways in which they could best support the students. Over the course of the first year of the program, over 1,000 faculty and staff members across academic, administrative, and student services departments requested decals to show their support.

The 1st ONE campaign followed a specific set of steps to get off the ground. Below we have outlined the steps Rochester took to implement the campaign along with some additional recommendations to help you create your own.

Development of a Campus-Wide Initiative

Development of a Campus-Wide Initiative

Step 1: Create a logo

Despite its potential to be time consuming, logo creation is probably the simplest step to complete. Student affairs staff can reach out to design experts from the campus community to help create a high-quality, recognizable logo.

Download the campus support campaign tool

Step 2: Create an accompanying information sheet

Since the campaign enables anyone across campus to show their support for the first-generation college student community, it is important to offer an educational component for the participants that do not have any formal training on supporting this population. Our toolkit walks you through creating an informational one-pager, similar to that distributed at Rochester. It includes a worksheet that you and your staff can use to personalize the one-pager for the particular characteristics of your first-generation college student population.

Step 3: Request in-kind donation for printing, decals, and stickers

Donations can help cover the printing costs and associated supplies for the decals and stickers. In addition to recommendations for appealing to a potential donor, our toolkit includes a sample letter to send with guidance on personalization, so that you don’t have to start a letter from scratch.

Step 4: Inform the campus community

The campaign can only be successful if constituents on campus are aware of it. Make sure to notify your campus community about the campaign and about how to get involved.

Our toolkit includes two sample emails, one directed towards faculty and staff to encourage them to display a decal, and another towards the student body to inform them of what the logos mean and how they can be supportive of the first-generation college student population on campus.

Learn more about improving the experience of first-generation college students

Our tactic implementation toolkit provides guidance to transform the first-generation college student experience. We’ve developed 17 tactics divided into four categories across the undergraduate lifecycle to help you improve outcomes for this growing demographic of students. Download the toolkit.

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