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Program Helps First-Generation College Students Adjust to University Life

altFor first-generation students, common college procedures and expectations aren’t a shared experience in the family. University life can be intimidating and difficult to navigate. Last fall, Loyola Marymount University established the First To Go program to connect these students with the academic support and resources they need in order to thrive and succeed.

“In its first year, the program has surpassed all my expectations. It’s multicultural and multiethnic, and there is a strong sense of community,” said La’Tonya Rease Miles, director of the Academic Resource Center and of First To Go. “Also, there is an increased level of engagement among the First To Go students, and they’re looking for more ways to stay on campus.”

Each student in the First To Go program is paired with a faculty, staff or administrator mentor; students also have access to a network of LMU staff and alumni, all of whom are former first-generation college students. Participants are invited to workshops on balancing family and school responsibilities and attend field trips where they can talk to first-generation graduate students about their research and grad school opportunities.

“With what little research we do have about first-generation students, we know that they do well, especially when they have a network of support and a welcoming community,” Rease Miles said. “The support the program received from the LMU community has been stellar.”

This fall, the program will launch a learning community component. All participants will take English 110 “College Writing” together and a one-unit course on how to navigate LMU at a personal level. The course will be co-facilitated by fellow First To Go program participants Marisa Cervantes and Yara Hidalgo. Cervantes, a sophomore sociology and Spanish double major, found the program through an email sent to all first-generation students at LMU.

alt“I wasn’t sure how to find out more about things like financial aid, which classes to take and how to approach my professors for help after class,” Cervantes said. “The First To Go program has helped me understand that I’m not the only one who has had these experiences and that there is a community at LMU that understands what it’s like.”

As a recipient of a grant from LMU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Cervantes is doing summer research on what it means to be a first-generation college student. With the assistance of her mentor, Rease Miles, Cervantes is surveying first-generation students at LMU and comparing that information with first-generation students from other institutions.

“I love the First To Go program,” Cervantes said. “Having a personal relationship with other first-generation students brings the university experience to a different level. Also, it’s so helpful for first-generation students to have a mentor who they can look up to and who can really help them.”

For more information about the First To Go program, go to http://academics.lmu.edu/arc/programswesupport/firsttogoprogram/