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Being the "First" Campus Voices

Welcome to the companion site for the eBook Being the "First": A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education.

Advice on Succeeding

What Families Need to Know

How First Generation Students Help the University

Advice on Succeeding

K-State First Generation Programs: Dr. Steve Dandaneau

Dr. Steve Dandaneau, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies

I'll name four or five (KSU) programs real quickly: the Pilots Program, which serves first-generation students as well as students from under-represented groups that's voluntary but 200 students join it. What makes it work is that there is some good advice and advising and tutoring but it really builds community among students so they have a more humanly approachable context in which to develop friendships around academic success and actually strengthen friendships in the residence halls and so on, the Plan for Success Program works specifically with students who are admitted through the exception window. They don't meet the qualified admission standards that the state of Kansas set, but we admit them anyway, we give them academic coaching and a kind of intensive even intrusive kind of style of academic advice which keeps them on task, and sure it's a high level of surveillance, but it's needed for students who have some pretty significant risk factors. They have been identified when they come into campus. We also have a First Scholars Program which we're piloting this year. It's focused just on first generation students and provides them not only with a living and learning community but also a nice scholarship to help with those high costs of higher education and then a First Scholars Strategic Initiative, which builds out some of the problematic elements of the smaller program for the benefit of dozens more first generation students including a large living learning community, use of the StrengthsQuest assessment tool, which identifies student's strengths and shows them they have a lot to bring and a lot of positive qualities that they can draw from in their student success and perhaps one last program called University Experience. It's a traditional transition course that helps students who may not know a lot about college learn about those very things that which they may be experiencing for the first time. How to be a good student, study skills, how to learn about the university they're in so they can feel comfortable meeting people and accessing resources and the like.

K-State First Generation Mentoring: Dr. Pat Bosco

Dr. Pat Bosco, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students

I'm very pleased that for a number of years we've had the pilots program here specifically for first generation students. Students entering the pilots program have about the same freshmen and sophomore attention than our general student body. They get intense counseling. They have a social network, They learn study skills and they have their own sense of identity which we've solved very very well for us.

There's also a program instituted about five years ago called MAP-Works. That gives us the chance to get a feel for what students are experiencing the first week or two weeks of the semester. Sometimes two weeks isn't enough, so I've instituted the last 20 years or so lunches that I personally host for new freshmen and new transfer students from out of state to try to get them connected. So my entire freshman class of Texans the very first day of school has lunch with the vice president and dean of the university. Now I learn who's here from Texas but also get a feel for when we bring in some of our current students who have kind of been there done that, they exchange emails and get a feel for rides home, but more importantly they start talking about study groups and being connected during the week but also on the weekends as well. I do that for all of my out-of-state students who are entering university We have a mentoring program called GPS or Guide to Personal Success. 4,000 freshmen – they all have a chance because of the general nature of our faculty and staff to volunteer their time and be a mentor to our student body, team members of our student body.

I take on 10 or 12 mentees every Fall and it's extremely rewarding. They get a chance to visit with me several times during the semester. They get a chance to hear, to get a pulse about what they are feeling, both their residence halls or fraternity sororities or scholarship processes in the classroom. What it means for us to put the burden on them for their own personal responsibilities, making healthy decisions, gives me a real sense of what's really happening in people's lives.

Ask Questions… Lots of Questions: Dr. Amanda Morales

Dr. Amanda Morales, College of Education Diversity Coordinator

If I were to give advice to a young person, I wish I would have been more willing to ask questions. Ask, ask, ask, ask if you don't know, ask, find somebody, seek out an office, make sure they know your face and they know your name. Remain pleasant but be courageous, and if you don't know, be okay with saying I don't know, I've never done this before, no one in my family has ever done this before, if you could help me that would be great. Take notes, because people who are in it all the time, they talk fast and it's common, second nature to them, but when this is all new to you it's not, and writing it down is a really great thing, and it demonstrates that you're really listening and that you really want to know, and folks on campus appreciate that.

Skills Needed for College: Dr. Amanda Morales

Dr. Amanda Morales, College of Education Diversity Coordinator

I think it's critical for them to understand time management and study skills because many students, depending upon where they come from, their high-schools weren't necessarily a challenge for them. For whatever reason, they either didn't put in the effort or they put in minimal effort and were able to get by. However, the university experience is not the same. No matter how great of a student you are, when you come to campus you have got to understand just foundational study skills and foundational time management. Getting a planner to document in your schedule is critical, blocking in time for studying just like if it were a job or another class. Blocking off that time and not allowing anything to impede on that time is critical to being successful. I think if first generation students or first-year students learn that early, they're much more likely to be successful by the time May rolls around.

What Families Need to Know

Family Support: Dr. Amanda Morales

Dr. Amanda Morales, College of Education Diversity Coordinator

Parents of first generation students, they have a great deal to contribute, but what they have to contribute looks different than what second or third generation college students, or parents of college students can provide. I think they provide a lot of just life advice, guidance and mentorship, kind of emotional support. Often times spiritual support also. However, often times they don't have a lot of the specifics, understanding how logistics all fit together, the process, the timing of things, where to go, who to ask, how to access resources. They often times can't provide that. But in my own experience, I have found that my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders, they have always believed in me even when they didn't understand my masters thesis topic or something I was studying in school, or my topic of dissertation and the details that are involved in going to school and studying. They would still listen, they would be tired and they would be confused but they'd still listen and just always provide an encouraging word. I think that means a whole lot more than people realize. Just knowing that they're in your corner and that they're there to support you.

I also would say on the flip side, it adds a layer of complexity. For the first generation student, I think because the parents don't understand all that's involved, they don't understand the extreme amount of responsibility that comes with being a student. They don't understand the time commitment or the mental energy that it requires to be a successful student, knowing that for every class you take, the number of hours you're in class that there twice as much as and the amount of studying that you have to do while preparing for an exam. And often times, because they don't understand that, they don't know why you can't come home on the weekend. I don't understand, if you are not working why can't you be here? Or if they call with family concerns and problems and stressors, they don't often understand what that means mentally or emotionally for the first generation student who's in college away, who is not able to be there, who often feels guilt for not being able to be there.

It's a lot, it's a lot to carry and first generation students often have more of that, I think, than second, third, fourth generation students and it's a disconnect. It's a disconnect that I think faculty advisers and support staff and programs can help mitigate. But I don't know that you can ever get rid of that. I think that negotiation between the parents and the previous reality and the new reality, it's a dance that the student has to do and resilient students who find a way to navigate and negotiate all of that complexity are the ones that succeed. So as a college, I feel like K-State does a pretty good job, a really great job actually, even more today than when I was a student here. They do an excellent job in helping prepare students in giving them tools to at least understand there is a process. This is something you need to navigate.

Parent's Struggles: Dr. Dina Bennett

Dr. Dina Bennett, Assistant Director of McNair Scholars Program

Parents don't know about the college environment so they're a little bit suspicious about what their student is going to encounter and they're afraid to let their student go and leave home because they just don't know what it's all about.

How First Generation Students Help the University

Funds of Knowledge: Dr. Steve Dandaneau

Dr. Steve Dandaneau, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies

The nation and the world needs these folks to be successful because they have perspective and strengths that they bring to the university experience and that they will bring to professions and to their careers and lives which are really in demand these days. We need them to bring their critical thinking to the great problems we face. We need them to persevere so they can acquire enough power to make a difference in our society where it's needed. I would encourage them by saying, look, they have an obligation, responsibility, if they can all do it without blaming them if they have real struggles and they can't.

If they can do it, it's a tremendous need for what they can offer. And if they could do it for others as well as or themselves we're all going to really benefit. I mean, a lot of the brightest people after all, a lot of the most innovative, creative folks, the people who end up as professors, many of them are just those people, they're just those people because folks who are more comfortable, they are less inclined sometimes to ask tough questions, to take on the biggest challenges, they kind of smooth themselves right in and they flow right into positions of privilege and prestige and power and they don't question as much. We need the people that question too, because we're not living a sustainable life right now that really measures up to our own values. I agree, they're much more likely to give back to if they come from a place… they are much more likely to be empathetic and understand the situation of other folks who have less power and are therefore less able to effect their own life and the lives of others.

There's that kind of democratic sensibility that thrives in an environment where there's struggle. I think Dr. King's kind of an exception, he came from a fairly privileged background, relatively speaking. But he had enough wherewithal and sensibility to see beyond just that narrow confine of his own family and situation, to the greater issues that afflicted folks like himself and that challenged people all over the world. We can be that kind of institution, we're supposed to be an engine of social mobility, of critical thought. We're supposed to challenge. A lot of the things we take for granted are otherwise obliged to on a daily basis and it's folks who have that experience of struggle, they are a little bit more likely I'd say, if not a lot more likely to grasp what's at stake, to see what the issues are, and have the motivation and the determination to follow it through.

Diversity of Perspectives: Dr. Debbie Mercer

Dr. Debbie Mercer, Dean of Education

Diversity of perspectives is one thing that makes our university strong and first generation students bring a unique perspective. We can't generalize students in Kansas' classrooms and a first generation student has the authentic voice in speaking to students and promoting them to think about opportunities post high school. "Here's my walk, here's what's done in my life, and this is why I think you should think about it." And that student could immediately come back with, "Well, I don't have enough money to do that. Nobody in my family has ever gone to college, that's not a big deal for us." That authentic voice could say, "I was the first generation student. It wasn't a big deal in my family, but Mom and Dad supported me, or my Dad really struggled with it, but then he now understands. So here's how I walked that." Authentic voice is one of the most powerful teaching tools that we have and being able to support and nurture first generation students that would go out and then support and nurture high school students, middle school students, even elementary students and plant that seed of I know you can do this and I did and let me tell you about my walk. That makes that impact so powerful and so far-reaching for each student that gets to do that year after year in their career.

Giving Back to the Community and Culture: Dr. Amanda Morales

Dr. Amanda Morales, College of Education Diversity Coordinator

One of the things that's unique about the Latino community in Kansas in particular is that, they're in such a great position right now to really benefit not only as a student. They're in a position to really benefit not only themselves and their post-family, but their community overall. I think because the Latino population in the state of Kansas has grown so much over the past 20 years, we're seeing more and more Latinos here at K-State which is great, and many, many of them are first-generation students and they are doing quite well. They are navigating the process well and K-State is doing everything they can to support them in culturally relevant ways.

One of the things that I've seen in the Latino students that I've worked with and it parallels with my own experience as a Latina, is the strong sense of commitment to give back to the community. To be successful not just for myself or for my family, but to make a difference for my community, the Latino community overall. To serve as a role model for my nieces and my nephews. To serve as a mentor for the girls in my high school, to show them that getting married and having a family is wonderful but it's not the only option you have as a Latino female. You can do that and you can also go to school, you can also go to graduate school, and you can also work in a lab and you can also be an engineer, you can also be a teacher and change lives as well as have a family and both things are worthy and valued.

I also feel like there is a sense of what I call ganas, or this drive, this unending hope in striving to make a difference and to be successful, no matter what happens, no matter how many obstacles I hit, no matter how many times I fall down. I'm going to keep going because my family has endured so many hardships in order for me to be here. Whether that be in the United States or to be in Kansas or for me to be in college, they've given up so much and they've sacrificed so much that I can't stop, I can't give up, I can't keep trying, I can't allow this one bad test to send me back home, I can't do that. They have done too much for me I have to be successful for them. And it adds pressure, but I also see it serving as a retention mechanism that keeps them going, that keeps them in the program and even if they stop out for a semester, they are right back the next semester and there head sticking in my office and they are saying, "Hello, Dr. Morales, I'm back." And I cheer them on and I hear their stories and but I see it over, over and over and over again, this ganas, this sense of drive, this sense of commitment to keep going, despite what they encounter and I think that not only embodies what the Latino experience is in Kansas, but also first generation students. I think it applies also across the board in a lot of ways.

Connectedness and Community Building: Dr. Steve Dandaneau

Dr. Steve Dandaneau, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies

Yes, I guess I would recommend two things. One is, luckily in this day and age we do have the Internet and the student, even in their school, if they don't have access to the Internet at home, they could use their school's access to the Internet to search different universities and learn about them that way. In fact, that's a far more effective way than folks a generation or two ago had to go through with reading the catalog and such. This is a really great advantage and people need to take advantage of it. The other thing that's important is they have to find some folks who have been to college. I think it's crucial to reach out to maybe friends of friends, neighbors, whoever it is, you have to reach out and find some people who have been through the experience because that kind of first-hand knowledge is almost impossible to apply in any other way. They could reach out directly to the college or university, but I think knowing people or having that trusting relationship, even with a distant connection is going to mean a lot and there is a lot of research on that actually, just in general, that weak relationships like that – the neighbor's, brother, they really make a big difference in a person's life and people should not be afraid to access. And people want to talk about those experience and almost always will be helpful and share the benefit of their experience.

Connectedness and Community Building: Dr. Pat Bosco

Dr. Pat Bosco, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students

Find a niche for you, find a place that's going to care about you, that people look you in the eyes and care about your success, and are going to be there when you in fact ask for help. And that's where the rubber meets the road. Are you that committed as an institution, to be there when a student needs that encouragement or that helping hand. Regardless of the size of the school, your academic credentials, your national rankings, bottom line is that do you care and are you willing to live and walk the talk of making sure you're responsive to not only first generation students and their challenges, but your entire student body.

Being the "First" eBook is available at New Prairie Press.

Published April 2016

Recommended Citation:
Kim, Jeong-Hee; Morales, Amanda R.; Earl, Rusty; and Avalos, Sandra, "Being the “First”: A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education" (2016). NPP eBooks. Book 7.

Creative Commons License

Being the “First”: A Narrative Inquiry into the Funds of Knowledge of First Generation College Students in Teacher Education
by Kansas State University College of Education is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


This research project was undertaken as a part of the College of Education’s annual documentary film series, A Walk in My Shoes. We thank our Dean, Debbie Mercer, for her support on this project. Without her commitment to promoting diversity and social justice, this project would not have been possible. Finally, and most of all, we would like to thank the participants and their families for sharing their stories with us. They opened their hearts, their homes and their lives to us, providing powerful glimpses into the lived experiences of FGC students in the Midwest.

For more information, please contact: