WVU FirstGen has joined the First Scholars Network to help guide first generation college students to be successful from their first day on campus to commencement. (WVU Photo)
WVU FirstGen has joined the First Scholars Network to help guide first generation college students to be successful from their first day on campus to commencement. (WVU Photo)

WVU joins national higher ed network to scale up support for first-generation students

Transitioning to college comes with its fair share of trials and tribulations for any incoming first-year freshman. But first-generation students often face a host of additional challenges.

Through WVU FirstGen, an initiative housed in the Office of Student Success, West Virginia University is doubling down on its commitment to support the more than 4,000 self-identified first-generation undergraduates on Morgantown’s campus. To scale up resources, programs and services, FirstGen has been selected to join the First Scholars Network, which includes more than 45 higher ed institutions nationwide. Run by the Center for First-Generation Student Success — an initiative of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation – First Scholars and WVU FirstGen will work together to improve the overall campus experience for these students, inside and outside of the classroom.

“I’m looking forward to collaborating with the First Scholars Network,” said Evan Widders, associate provost for undergraduate education, who also oversees the Office of Student Success. “We have a strong foundation for our FirstGen program, but this partnership will elevate the support provided to the thousands of FirstGen students at WVU.”

First-generation students often cite difficulties in navigating campus resources, learning time management skills, and determining how to prepare for exams and succeed in their coursework as obstacles they face when entering college. Non-academic challenges can be just as great, including coping with mental health issues, discovering a sense of belonging, making connections in and out of the classroom, and forging lifelong friendships.

“We currently offer small pockets of FirstGen services and activities, from unique mentorship opportunities and common core curriculum, to game nights and stress relief nights,” said Michelle Paden, program coordinator for FirstGen. “I’m excited that we’ll be able to do even more to break down common ‘imposter syndrome’ barriers and help our students reach their full potential.”

Recognizing first-gen students are embarking on a journey that no one in in their families has experienced before, WVU has enhanced its first-gen resources over the past few years to help ease the transition and plan for success. What began as a Living-Learning Community in 2017 has evolved into the FirstGen program, while the WVU Foundation now accepts gifts for emergency grants, textbooks and other needs. Donations to support these funds are accepted year-round, as well as during the University’s annual Day of Giving.

Now, this collaboration with First Scholars will build a more dynamic, expansive network of tailored resources and scalable initiatives.

“The additional programming and support will help our students whose parents or guardians have not earned a four-year college or university degree enhance their college lingo while they navigate the foreign language of higher education.” Paden added. “Truth be told, the number of acronyms rivals that of our federal government. We hope to ease their anxiety and help ensure their college experience is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.”

“The Center is so pleased to welcome West Virginia University into Cohort Three of our First Scholars Network,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president, Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that WVU is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future.”

Learn more about WVU FirstGen.

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