Starting college is one of the most intimidating experiences many students have ever faced at that point in their lives. Now imagine starting college and having nobody to tell you what to expect. For first-generation students, this is often the reality.
“Trying to find my footing as a college student is really hard when everyone else can look to their parents [for help],” management and real estate sophomore Kylie Hall said. “This is something my parents never had.”
When Hall started at the College of Business, these were struggles she had to overcome on her own as a first-generation student. While she might have felt isolated, her fears weren’t unique: Within the College of Business, one in five students identify as first generation, which is defined as any student whose parents have not completed a bachelor’s degree.
To help students like Hall acclimate to campus, the University offered resources for incoming first-generation students, but support was limited to freshman. That left students with little support as they progressed to their degree. That’s where College of Business academic advisor Alex Diemer saw a gap, and moved to create a support network for the 20% of students who identify as first-generation in the College.
As staff advisor for the First Generation Business Association, her goal is to help all first-generation Business students feel welcome and gain the support they need to be successful. Although her efforts often focus on overcoming the day-to-day trials of succeeding at college, they have impact that extends far beyond the walls of Rockwell Hall.
“A first-generation student doesn’t just change the trajectory of their own lives. They change the lives of the generations that follow them,” she said. “In a very literal, familial sense, passing on opportunities to their siblings and children. Also, in a societal sense, serving as mentors, teachers, entrepreneurs, inventors, problem-solvers and so much more.”
Growing Programming to Suit Students
Diemer started by providing programming to all first-generation students through monthly workshops and events designed to build community, facilitate mentorship, develop academic skills and foster employer connections. After developing programming a few semesters on her own, she decided to develop five leadership positions to bring students on board to gain a fresh new student perspective.
“A lot of the people at the top of their field are first generation,” Diemer said. “It is really cool to see that not only did they put their foot in the door but they blew through it and they climbed that ladder. I think that can be really inspiring.”
Hall was one of the first students to serve on the board as a student coordinator. After her first year at the College of Business, she recognized how supportive the first-generation community was and wanted to help other students feel as welcome as she did when she started. In fall, she helped to bring a speaker from Fort Collins digital marketing company Madwire to speak about his experience as a first-generation student.
“He just broke down a lot of barriers for me of what I thought my life could even be like as a first gen,” Hall said. “I have a lot of big goals because I want to prove to myself that I can make it, but he said you don’t need to worry about that. Just go with where [the College of Business] takes you and be welcoming of the help you get from everyone around you who wants to see you thrive.”
For students like Hall, the first-generation network is a space for students to become inspired and not feel isolated in their journey.
“Statistically speaking, a lot of people who didn’t have parents who went to college had other things going on monetarily or in the household,” she said. “I’ve just met a lot of kids who have been through the same things as me and I learned from that.”
With approximately 500 students in the College who identify as first generation, Diemer hopes to learn more about who they are and what their goals are so the program can better support them, while celebrating their accomplishments. Diemer and the student board aim to create a welcoming and natural environment where students of all experiences can come to ask for help, listen to success stories and support one another throughout their time at the College of Business and into their career.
“We are really friendly. We always have good food, so you should come!” Diemer said. “Come alone, come with a friend, just walk through the door and I promise it isn’t going to be awkward.”
Seventh Annual Building Bridges Dinner
As with every year at the end of winter, the group prepares for the Seventh Annual Building Bridges Dinner, an event for all College of Business first generation students, faculty and staff. Each year, the dinner brings the College of Business first generation community together in celebrating their accomplishments with a dinner, engaging conversation and speakers that range from students to C-Suite executives. The Seventh Annual Building Bridges Dinner will be held 4:30 p.m. March 4 in Lory Student Center Ballroom D.
The dinner celebrates students’ accomplishments and offers inspiration from peers and professionals who have walked the same path, but ultimately, it’s about finding connection.
Hall wants students to understand that being a first-generation student does not mean you are alone.
“We are all in the same boat and have been through different experiences not all of them good, but that’s okay because this is a safe space and we can learn together because that is the whole point while we all are here.”