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Avery Garcia ’11 (right), program coordinator with Multicultural Student Services, says parents can support first-generation college students in a variety of ways.

Support for First-Generation Students Important

About one-quarter of SNC students are first-generation college students. If you’re the parent of a first-gen student, you may feel unsure of your role, if any. You do have a role, and it’s an important one: to be supportive. And support comes in many forms.

First, understand that college is hard work. “I have heard from first-gen students that their parents don’t understand why they can’t come home more, or miss a class for something special, like a birthday celebration,” says Avery Garcia ’11, assistant director of Multicultural Student Services. But it actually is a big deal to miss a class, where crucial information may be explained. And all college students need to dedicate a lot of time to their studies to be successful – definitely more time than they did in high school.

Being supportive also means asking your student a lot of questions, Garcia says, and perhaps helping brainstorm answers. For example, if you ask how school is going, and your student says they’re struggling in chemistry, don’t let the conversation stop there. Ask what they mean when they say they are struggling.

“If your student says she got a C on her last two tests, then you can ask more questions,” Garcia says, “Like, ‘Well, have you asked other students or your professor what you can do about that? Are there any campus services to help? Is there anything I can do to help?’”

It’s also good to remind your student that asking questions is always acceptable, says Garcia, and the best course of action when you don’t know something. Many first-generation students report feeling less comfortable than their peers in the classroom. So they may hesitate to ask questions, especially if no one else is, or worry about bothering their professor by attending office hours. But many non-first-gen students refrain from asking questions in class because they’re nervous, too. And professors really want to help their students, especially the instructors at St. Norbert, who often go out of their way to establish relationships with their students.

“The faculty here will be your student’s biggest cheerleaders,” says Garcia. Students who get to know their professors often end up with valuable opportunities, such as helping with research projects or serving as teaching assistants. And these same faculty members will often later provide letters of recommendation for graduate school or jobs.

Garcia encourages parents to feel free to contact the college, too. So if you have questions about monetary assistance or immunizations, call the office of financial aid or Health Services. If you have a question but aren’t sure who to ask, Garcia says you can call her. “I’m always willing to talk.”

Luckily, SNC has more resources than ever to help first-generation students. Last year, Avery assisted Elisha Jaeke ’20 in creating the Proud to Be First initiative at SNC, designed to support first-gens so they are successful in college. Jaeke herself is a first-generation student, so she understands the challenges and needs.

Last month, Proud to be First sponsored an informal networking event, where first-gen students could get to know SNC faculty and staff who were also the first in their families to go to college. This spring, she hopes to unveil a mentoring program between first-gen students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Helping make these connections is really important, and it’s what really sets St. Norbert apart from other schools,” says Garcia.

Dec. 13, 2019