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First In Line: Serving First-Generation College Students

June 13, 2018
Mito Diaz-Espinoza is the program manager for First in Line, a program that provides a variety of resources and tools to support first-generation students as they navigate the unique experiences of college life. He shares this advice with first-generation families based on years of experience working with students and helping them find success both on campus and beyond.

It’s an exciting time when a student becomes the first in their family to go to college. As first-generation students come to campus in August, or if you visit campus together as a family for Orientation this month, it’s a time filled with anticipation, hope—and questions.

In my role supporting first-generation students through the First in Line Program, I have the privilege to talk with parents and families, answer their questions and help connect them to the resources they need. We’re not only here during the school year. Each year at Orientation, families come with questions about the year ahead. It’s never too early to start thinking about student success at the college level.

Here is information for you to begin considering, based on many of those conversations, as you begin this journey with your new Baylor Bear:

-Time: You and your student will soon learn that time is your student’s most valuable resource. A student may look at their schedule, compare it to their high school days and think, “This is going to be easy.” But, those gaps between classes will evaporate quickly. Your student will actually be busy. Don’t worry if you call or text them and don’t receive an answer immediately—this will be a common thing. It may be helpful for you and your student to prepare a communication plan before the semester gets stressful.

-Home Visits: While time for families and students to visit is important, coming home every weekend may not be in the best interest of your student. It isn’t that they do not want to come home, it is that weekend time on campus is useful in connecting with others, resting, and preparing for the week to come.

When students go home they look for comfort—comfort in their old bed, in home-cooked meals, in the familiar—and it is easy to stay wrapped in that comfort and not face the difficult realities of calculus, chemistry, biology, Christian Scriptures, or whatever assignments are dominating their minds. Many times, students come home, put their book bag down when they walk in the house and do not pick up the bag again until they are heading out the door back to campus.

So, try and coordinate activities and plan for special occasions well in advance. At the beginning of semester, professors will provide a class syllabus that will include all major assignments and due dates to help you and your student plan accordingly. Neither you nor your student should ever say, “I didn’t know that was going to be on the same time my assignment was due.”

-Each student’s experience is unique: College success looks different for each student. The common measurement we use are class grades. Sometimes a C in a class will be a great accomplishment, and sometimes a B will be a major disappointment. In either case, make sure you and your student focus on the learning and growth that is associated with the class, not just the grade.

Grades are important, especially for scholarship eligibility, but try and put learning first. If you do find your student not making the same type of grades he or she made in high school, remember that your student is adjusting to a new environment and that may impact grades. In a new environment, students are being exposed to new information. For some it is confirming their choice of major, for others it is introducing students to new choices and paths. College is about growth and change, so be prepared to have discussions about changing majors and career focus (and open this dialogue early in their time at Baylor).

-Here to help: First-generation students and their families enrich the Baylor Family. Know that, throughout this journey, there are resources for you to use. The Parents Network is an excellent way to connect with resources across campus. Additionally, you can join a Facebook group specifically for families of first-generation college students, allowing you to connect and make friends with other families sharing similar experiences.

To learn more about Baylor First In Line, visit their website, email or call Mito Diaz-Espinoza at (254)710-6854.

The First In Line Program will be the cover story in the Summer edition of Baylor Magazine. Be on the lookout for Baylor Magazine in your mailbox the first in July.
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