Heading to college for the first time is a daunting task, but the pressure mounts when you’re the first of your family to attend college. This is the challenge for first-generation students, where neither parent nor guardian has obtained a four-year college degree.
At the University of Virginia, more than 1,500 students are “first-gen,” and the University is working to support them by offering resources and education opportunities through the Office of the Dean of Students.
This week, UVA has been celebrating this community with “National First-Generation College Celebration Week,” which includes programming that highlights the challenges that first-generation students face and the resources available to them.
Lending his support to this community, UVA President Jim Ryan – a first-generation student himself – said in a recent video, “First-generation students, faculty and staff at UVA add immense value to our institution.”
“First-gen students, faculty, and staff at UVA add immense value to our institution.”— UVA ODOS (@UVAODOS) November 5, 2018
A message from @PresJimRyan to kick off UVA’s first-generation celebration. Follow us and @uva_hoosfirst to see everything happening across Grounds this week! #celebratefirstgen #wahoowa pic.twitter.com/nOBQ2Hbn5Y
One of these first-generation students is second-year student Nia Augustine, who is working to help fellow first-gens succeed at UVA. When she confronted challenges as both a first-generation and out-of-state student, she found resources at UVA that helped her to succeed.
Now Augustine is working in the Office of the Dean of Students as an intern, and she sat down with UVA Today to give a couple of tips to first-generation students.
1. Start with Hoos First
As a student intern in the Office of the Dean of Students, Augustine has been working closely with Hoos First, a supportive community on Grounds that works to help first-generation students thrive at UVA. Augustine finds that “people are hesitant to come to Hoos First” to ask for resources, but she wants other students to know that Hoos First is here and has “these resources specifically for first-generation students.” Hoos First aims to support these students through making connections with first-generation faculty and staff and educational programming.
2. Know the Resources Available at UVA
In addition to Hoos First, the First-Generation Student Support program in the Office of the Dean of Students offers services to first-generation students to help them succeed, including one-on-one consultation to help guide students through their college experience.
The program also offers financial aid workshops with staff members from Student Financial Services, who help students navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and explain other financial aid support. Augustine said that after taking one of these classes, she felt as if “a burden was lifted off her shoulders at the beginning of the semester.”
Another service offers specific support and resources for first-generation students looking for career opportunities and work study at UVA. Students can get more information about grad school, study abroad and other job opportunities through First-Generation Student Support.
In addition, the Career Center hosts events including “Look ‘Hoos Back,” where first-generation UVA alumni come back to Grounds to talk to current students about their experiences.
Looking more broadly at what the University offers, Augustine highlighted Counseling and Psychological Services, which helped in her own journey as a first-generation student.
3. Find Your Community
Beyond Hoos First, Augustine recommends participating in student organizations on Grounds, which help break down the larger University into smaller communities.
For Augustine, one of the groups she found is Contemplation@UVA, which supports healthy living through mindfulness and meditation. This group “made all the difference” for Augustine at UVA.
Augustine wants others to find their own community as she did and she highlighted the services offered at the Office of African-American Affairs and the LGBTQ Center.
4. Be Proud
“Let people know that you’re a first-generation student,” Augustine said, because “everyone is willing to help you out.” Augustine mentioned how she found mentors at the University by sharing her own experiences as a first-generation student. She found that her mentors have helped her navigate challenges.
5. Remember, the Sky Isn’t the Limit
Augustine wants every first-generation student to know that “there is no limit.”
While she’s the first of her family to go to college, she’s not stopping at one degree. Augustine has her sights set on earning a Master of Public Policy from UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, where she can “effect change on a policy standpoint.” She credits first-generation faculty and staff at UVA for encouraging her goals beyond her bachelor’s degree.