by Jessica Angeles
Mentor: Sasha Fleary, Child Study and Human Development; funding source: Barbara B. Young Summer Scholars Fundangelesjessicaj_27901_2264793_FGCS-SOB-Mentorship-Poster-Presentation
There is an increasing rate of first-generation college students (FGCS) attending post-secondary institutions with 56% of undergraduatesidentifying as first-generation college students (those that were first in their family to receive a bachelor’s degree) in the 2015-2016 year. Despite their increasing presence on college campuses, particularly predominantly white campuses, these students still continue to face disparities when adjusting to their post-secondary institutions. Their ‘invisible identity’, which is not known unless stated, makes its intersections with other identities such as race, socioeconomic status, and/or status of residency play a larger role on their experiences. In these spaces that are often unfamiliar to them, FGCS may face hardships in their academics and socialization to campuses, so the question is what can institutions implement to improve the experiences of what is now a prominent group at their schools? Studies have shown the positive effects of social support in the student experience and more importantly, a student’s sense of belonging. Sense of belonging is a “basic human need” that can shape how a student views their institution, how they see themselves in a space as well as how they adjust to a space. The implementation of programs and learning communities that target an FGCS’ belonging and orientation to institutions can provide the necessary support to create an equitable environment for these students. Mentorship, in particular, has the ability to integrate students academically and socially. Its flexibility in terms of how it is offered (informally or formally through peers or faculty) can not only spread valuable information but allow FGCS to see their potential at these institutions through individualized social support.
In this study, I hope to explore what promotes and what harms sense of belonging of FGCS and what role mentorship plays in these sentiments given the complexity of the FGCS identity. Through the conduction of interviews with current FGCS at Tufts University, I will explore these concepts and later use this data to inform institutions and their programs such as The FIRST Resource Center at Tufts, student needs through the stories from the students themselves. This research is a way in which I hope to challenge institutions to think about more than just the access they provide their students with, but rather the kind of support that gives them the opportunity to succeed as well as navigate their post-secondary institutions. As Engstrom and Tinto mention in their 2008 paper, “Access without support is not an opportunity” and it is time for us to shift this lens from what students could do to what institution can do for the students.
Acknowledgements: In a study dedicated to exploring the benefits of social support to first generation college students, I have to give a huge thanks to those that have supported me so far in this process. I want to thank Jared Smith and Margot Cardamone and their roles in the First Resource Center. I want to thank my faculty mentor over the summer, Dr. Sasha Fleary as well as my two thesis committee members Dr. Natasha Warikoo and Dr. Heather Urry for their support as I continue the project into my senior year. Thank you as well to Summer Scholars for providing me with the opportunity and the funding to be able