On a Thursday afternoon in late October, students funnel into a room on the third floor of Valley Library. Ranging in ages and backgrounds, there is one thread that ties them together. They are all first-generation college students looking for mentorship from Oregon State University professionals as they seek to define their own legacy.
A new organization on campus called FIRST! is providing a mentoring service and support to the approximately 5,000 self-reported first-generation college students at Oregon State. They have been active for three years, and are just starting to gain traction as they expand their staff and develop a larger online presence.
FIRST! is supported by the Office of Academic Achievement in Student Affairs.
This is not a student-fee funded organization. The Committee is all volunteer based and made up of teaching faculty, academic advisors, and librarians from across campus.
Lindsay Marlow is an assistant professor, STEM librarian, and one of the dedicated volunteers that make up FIRST!
“The organization means a lot to me.“ Marlow said. “Being a first generation college graduate myself, I want to do as much as I can as a faculty member to help this generation of students.”
Marlow said first-generation students can face a number of problems as they navigate university life, but are also armed with a good skill set that can be bolstered by mentorship. “These are very motivated students who face problems when it comes to affordability, and knowledge of resources. So we put on these events to create a sense of community where we put together all these different minds and experience levels.”
“We are creating a resource where first-generation students can just be themselves and ask questions within this community we are creating for them,” Marlow said. FIRST! is trying to help students define their own legacy so they can prosper in future environments.
Along with creating a community through events, they also have implemented an informal mentorship program where they are pairing first generation students with faculty and staff at OSU who also identify as first generation. Together they can collaborate in an casual setting regarding any topic, whether that be navigating Corvallis, signing up for classes, or finding resources on campus that new students may not already be aware of.
The students at the FIRST! event at the library expressed excitement about the potential for guidance. Mackenzie Robertson, a freshman in New Media Communications from California, was present at the event and talked about what her accomplishments and struggles have been as a first generation college student.
“When I was a senior in high school and was trying to apply to colleges, I felt like I didn’t have the resources to proofread essays and look over my applications,”she said. “I felt like I was figuring most things out for myself.“ Robertson sought out FIRST! because she wanted extra support as she navigates her first year at Oregon State. “I had to push myself to go to events like this. I was so surprised when I arrived because everyone was welcoming and the staff here wanted to reach out to us and help us in any way we needed it.”
Robertson said FIRST! has helped create a sense of inclusivity for students who don’t have the benefit of growing up with family members who attended college. “It makes me feel like I belong and gives me the resources I have been looking for,” she said.
FIRST! will be launching a website in 2019 and will be hosting more workshops during the academic year. They held a workshop in January and will look to hold more events during Spring Term. This event is sponsored jointly by the FIRST! committee, Student Affairs, and OSU Athletics.
For more information regarding FIRST! you can contact Urmila Mali at [email protected]
~ Evan Lepire