Students face plenty of challenges when going off to college, but as a first generation student there are some additional obstacles.
“Starting just senior year with applications to school and FAFSA and scholarships you’re kind of doing it alone because if you go to your parents they don’t know the terminology. They have no idea what you’re talking about,” explained sophomore Mayra Rios.
Joining a program that focuses on helping first generation students was exactly what Mayra needed.
“It’s people who are in the same shoes as you are, so you don’t feel like you’re alone in this,” said Mayra. “Because as soon as you put yourself in the program you just feel very welcome. And you’re very loved – it’s a North Central thing itself. But with Cardinal First there’s just so much community building and the networking and support system that you have as soon as you get there is the biggest takeaway I would say. “
Cardinal First mentors and supports students whose parents don’t have a degree from a college or university. Consistently about 40 percent of NCC’s incoming class is first generation students.
“Sometimes they don’t have as much knowledge or cultural capital as to navigating the higher ed. system. So we connect them to the resources and opportunities that we know are important at each step of the way,” explained Julie Carballo, the director of First Generation Programs at NCC.
Those resources are made available at monthly workshops where students in Cardinal First learn more about resume building, time management and networking.
Support also comes from connecting students with faculty and staff who were once first generation students too. Student ambassadors who went through the program also help out.
“It definitely showed me how difficult it can be to be a first generation college student. I mean my parents have no idea what I’m going through. And going through the program I was really able to network and connect with people and kind of build a community that I never really knew how to do before. So becoming an ambassador and showing the first years how to do that and make them feel comfortable. And to grow it really helps, and it’s good for them,” explained junior Tommy Semanic, a Cardinal First ambassador.
The program launched three years ago and has already received top national honors at the 2018 Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, or NASPA.
Cardinal First earned the elite Grand Silver Excellence award and a Gold Excellence award on enrollment management, orientation and support.
Nationally about one third of college students are first generation.
Naperville News 17’s Christine Lena reports.