As the semester gets underway, the Hobart and William Smith First Generation Initiative (FGI) is expanding its reach as the campus resource that’s focused on offering guidance, advice and support to acclimate students who are the first or one of the first in their immediate family to attend a four-year institution.
Founded by Associate Dean of William Smith College Lisa Kaenzig in 2006, FGI helps first-generation college students reach their fullest potential during their academic careers. Kaenzig has overseen the direction of the program since its creation, but is handing leadership of the program over to Associate Dean of Students Stacey Pierce, who is taking over as coordinator of FGI this year.
Pierce, a first-generation student herself, says that providing a multi-layered support network to all students can be beneficial during their transition to college, but is of particular importance for first-generation students.
“By providing both formal and informal opportunities for first-generation students to connect with faculty and staff, who are willing to serve as mentors and to interact with other first-generation students, we are adding another layer of support to the many ways in which the Colleges demonstrate a commitment to helping students define their experience in our community,” Pierce says.
Through the initiative, first-generation students are paired with a faculty mentor – half of whom were first-generation students themselves. A “mentor match” provides personalized support for each new first-year student in the program, offering assistance in navigating financial aid and scholarship information, or simply someone to talk to about the college transition. Pierce says the mentor match program is vital to FGI’s success.
“I believe strongly in the power of one-on-one connections,” Pierce says. “The mentor program matches first-generation students with a faculty or staff member based on a wide variety of interests, and encourages mentor pairs to meet throughout the year. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect on a personal level and create a lasting relationship while offering support and guidance.”
During the program, FGI members also meet with representatives from the Office of Residential Education, the Office of Financial Aid, the Center for Global Education, and the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education. First-generation students attend a variety of events and workshops focused on everything from financing study abroad experiences to time and workload management, to creating a résumé, to internship and job search strategies. Students also attend social events with other first-generation students, which more often than not include delicious free food.
Pierce says that FGI has had many successes over the years and continues to strive to do more as a way of supporting those who identify as the first in their family to attend a four-year college.
“This year we have started to think about how we can further involve the parents and families of first-generation students in the program,” Pierce says. “As much as this is new to the student here on campus, for many parents and families this experience is also new, and sometimes confusing, and maybe even frustrating at times. We hope to reach out to parents and families and offer them support as well, through various means that can help them understand their student’s new life on campus and how they can be helpful and supportive along the way.”
As FGI coordinator, Pierce also works closely with the student leaders as they develop and implement programs and resources for first-generation students, while she also helps them create connections with members of the faculty, staff and the broader HWS community who were the first in their families to attend college as well. Kaenzig, who continues to serve on the FGI Advisory Council, says that HWS student coordinators have been an integral piece of the FGI since its founding in 2006. This year, Aislinn Raftis ’15 and Kelly Craig ’16 are the co-coordinators of the FGI.
“The most consistent and critical element of the FGI is our student leaders – students who themselves are first generation and lead the initiative’s work over the course of the academic year,” Kaenzig says. “They design the programs, offer guidance about best ways to reach other students and faculty and provide the heart of the FGI with their own experiences.”
“It’s nice to know I have help from people who were and are in my place now,” says Craig, a first-generation student. “I want to help be that guidance, which is why I’m so excited to be a coordinator of the program and really make a difference.”
Craig, who hails from Las Vegas, is an English major involved in the HWS Chorale and Cantori singing groups. She has been working with the FGI for over a year and hopes it will achieve club status soon.
“To have the program be a club for the students as well would let more first generation students know that we are here for them, while also making those who are hesitant more relaxed to join,” Craig says.
Currently, Craig and her co-coordinator Aislinn Raftis ’15 are working with Pierce and Kaenzig on FGI efforts, while also teaming up with Orientation Coordinators to improve the overall first-year experience.
Kelly Craig ’16 (left), a co-coordinator of the First Generation Initiative (FGI), stands with Associate Dean of Students and Interim Title IX Coordinator Stacey Pierce, who directs the initiative. Created in 2006, FGI helps first generation college students reach their full potential during their academic careers.